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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 1st Dec 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Andrea – we plan to reposition 290 food-led pubs to meet changing consumer dynamics, drops breakfast and delivery: Andrew Andrea, chief executive of Marston’s, has said the company plans to reposition 290 food-led pubs to meet changing consumer dynamics. The company’s “food-led pub evolution” will come under three categories – the value-led Community; Signature; and the more aspirational – Revere. The Signature estate will grow from 12% of the group’s food-led estate to just under 40%. Community – which takes in Carvery, 2 for 1, Firebrand and Rotisserie, will take up 32%. The rest will be 8% Revere, up from 5%, wet-led community at 14%, and the remainder made up of its SA Brain and Scottish food-led pubs. Andrea said 25 conversion sites are planned for 2022 and 50 have been identified for the 2023 financial year. He told Propel: “It is our intention to invest around £50m to £55m of capital over the next four years to complete the programme at a minimum target return of 30%. However you cut it, pubs are not particularly complex businesses, it is all about delivering a great pub experience and not getting distracted from that. We are simplifying how we are thinking about that, and it is all about brilliant execution and getting the estate positioned to service all of those customer needs. Our food-led estate is about 80% value, that part of the market is high volume, low ticket, and is where discounting was most prevalent pre-pandemic. At the same time, a polarising market requires balance between premium and value. Crudely speaking we are moving from 80% value food to about a third being value food, a third being signature and then a proportion being more wet-led focused. A good example of the type of investments we are targeting is the Bankfield Inn, Bilston. The Bankfield was a carvery site with average net sales of £15,000 per week, comprising £4,000 of drink sales. We converted the pub to Marston's Community trading format in May with an investment of £250,000 and the pub is now consistently trading at £21,000 per week with drink sales of £10,000. The pro forma Ebitda of the pub is targeted at £230,000 based on current sales.” As part of this, Andrea said the company was focusing on peak periods and minimising distraction, which meant the end of offering breakfast, away from its accommodation sites; and delivery. He said: “Breakfast wasn’t a hard decision. We have seven lunchtimes and seven evening sessions. We are in a tight labour market, so we need to focus on when the customers are coming out to play the most. We are by no means at full capacity for all 14 of those occasions. When we were operating breakfast outside accommodation, we weren’t making that much money, and when we were redefining ‘creating a memorable Sunday’ the chef focus group was brilliant because they said ‘if you want me to create a great Sunday lunch, how can you expect me to do breakfast as well?’ The three elements of delivery that didn’t work for us were food quality, pub food doesn’t travel very well; we didn’t make that much money out of it; and philosophically we are a pub business, and we don’t want to encourage people to stay at home, but to come out and socialise.”
Marston’s launches new franchise agreement – see Company News

Industry News:

Sponsored message – The Alchemist uses Toggle to boost Black Friday gifting sales by 114%: Toggle, the hospitality commerce platform, has helped The Alchemist sell more than £50,000 worth of gift cards on Black Friday weekend – more than doubling its total from 2019. Brand director Jenny McPhee said: “We are over the moon with last week’s gift card sales, which reflects the appetite we continue to see from our guests since reopening. We saw an incredible £56,000 in gift card sales on Black Friday, which was a 114% increase on 2019 figures.” Toggle has additionally helped hospitality businesses raise more than £1.8m in November with additional revenue through gifting, seeing consumer demand grow year-on-year for a wider range of gifting options from their favourite brands. Chief executive Dan Brookman said: “November exceeded our expectations, we activated 36 new customers on the platform bringing the total live to more than 300 with a further 45 currently onboarding. Sales rose to £1.8m in November with current sales projections of £6m in December. Operators are really engaged with creating solid strategies to drive brand related experiences and pre-visit revenue through gift cards, bundles and retail products.” If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email

Propel launches Premium Advent Video Calendar today, Sarah Willingham to feature: Propel has launched its Premium Advent Video Calendar, giving subscribers access to a great video each day in December from our autumn conference series. Each day in December in the run-up to Christmas, Premium subscribers will be sent a video featuring some of the sector’s leading operators, who will share insights, advice and expertise. The first video, which will be sent at 9am today (Wednesday, 1 December), features Sarah Willingham, founder of Nightcap, acquirer of drinks-led businesses including The Cocktail Club and Adventure Bar, who talks about her life and learnings as an entrepreneur, how they helped her create Nightcap and where she sees opportunities in the market over the next three years. Premium subscribers will also receive the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Friday (3 December), at midday. The database will show the details of 366 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases. The latest Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, was sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (26 November). The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Premium subscribers also receive the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. To subscribe, email

Nicholls urges government to trust hospitality businesses rather than enforce tighter restrictions: Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, has urged the government to trust hospitality businesses rather than enforce tighter restrictions. Meanwhile, Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester's night-time economy adviser, warned if the hospitality sector is not supported and closes in December, “it will be the final nail in the coffin for many of our beloved venues”. The warning came as Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency and boss of NHS Test and Trace, said “being careful” and “not socialising when we don't particularly need to” could be beneficial. She also hinted there could be a return to working from home guidance in England if cases increase. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, urged people in the capital to go beyond the government's face mask rules as he called for coverings to be worn in pubs and restaurants as well. However, prime minister Boris Johnson insisted the government is “not going to change the overall guidance” as he said he is sticking with his original response to the new variant. Lord told the Daily Mail: “With the news of the Omicron variant, pubs, bars and restaurants are already seeing cancellations. This festive period was supposed to help these businesses reach back to pre-pandemic levels and boost revenues for the first time in months. If the chancellor does not plan these essential support packages for the country's pubs and bars, they are at risk of closing come January.” Nicholls said: “It is important to remember hospitality operators have invested significantly to ensure the safety of staff and customers, focusing on better ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, measures that SAGE recommends are the most effective measures of infection control. This means hospitality venues will be far safer places to socialise with family and friends this Christmas than at home. However, despite this, the chilling talk of Plan B is already being felt across hospitality as bookings are cancelled and plans changed. There is no doubt this will have a damaging effect on businesses, just as they head into their key trading period.”

BBPA – Small Brewer Relief overhaul should stimulate growth and investment in UK breweries: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has welcomed proposals to improve the current structure of Small Brewer Relief (SBR). As part of its efforts to modernise and simplify the UK tax system, Downing Street this week published several documents including an update on SBR reforms, which will see the government invest an additional circa £15m into the craft brewing sector. This will enable small breweries to expand without losing tax relief and addresses concerns that the current scheme fails to incentivise growth. The BBPA hopes these measures, combined with recent proposals set out in the Alcohol Duty Review, will address long-standing distortions caused by the current structure. “We welcome these changes to SBR, a scheme which provides a major boost to the UK’s small brewers,” a spokesman said. “The proposals seek to more closely align with economies of scale and will address barriers to growth. Combined with the recent duty freeze and proposals set out in the new Alcohol Duty Review, we hope this will now stimulate business growth and investment in Britain’s brewers of all sizes at a crucial time in their recovery post-covid.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a global hotel and lifestyle business as it develops its concept and expands into new regions. The food offering, accommodation, entertainment and activities will vary accordingly to match the local environment. To support this ever-changing part of its brand, the business is keen to appoint a destination/programme manager. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “This role will be instrumental in creating concepts for new and existing locations and managing the overall experience based on customer pull, environment and local trends. You will work at a country level, reporting into a global destination team. The role will primarily focus on concept creation, programming and local communications. However, you will also get involved with partnerships, public relations, guest experience and analytics. This role would suit a creative and motivated individual who has relevant experience in programming in a hotel, events, attraction, arts or festival environment.” Anyone interested can email

Company News:

Leon builds drive-thru pipeline: Natural fast food brand Leon, which is owned by EG Group, is lining up a further two drive-thru sites, Propel has learned. Leon, which earlier this week opened its first site at a supermarket, is understood to be planning to open sites in Coopers Lane, Knowsley Industrial Park in Kirkby, and Wetherby Road in Harrogate. Leon opened its first drive-thru restaurant, in Gildersome, Leeds, last month. Earlier this week, the brand launched a site at the Asda superstore in Bletchley Way, Milton Keynes. Asda is also owned by the EG Group, which is backed by the Issa brothers and TDR Capital. Leon has taken space in the store’s new food court, alongside the EG Group-partnered American bakery brand Cinnabon and S'barro, the New York-style pizza chain. The food court also hosts sites from Snowfox Group’s Panku street food concept and Bubbleology, the London bubble tea bar operator. EG Group acquired Leon in a circa £100m deal earlier this year.

Marston’s launches new franchise agreement called Pillar: Marston’s has launched a new franchise agreement aimed at leased pubs with an independent food offer, called Pillar. Chief executive Andrew Andrea said: “Our aspiration is to continue to roll out turnover-based agreements across our leased estate. The progress to date has been restricted to pubs that can accommodate a Marston's food menu and therefore implementation of such arrangements for a leased pub with an independent food offer has proved challenging. We have introduced a new franchise agreement, Pillar, which meets those challenges. The Pillar agreement enables a partner to operate their own menu through our EPOS system. As with the franchise model, the operating costs of the pubs excluding labour are borne by Marston's ensuring the pub is operating on national managed house cost terms. Having successfully trialled the new agreement in 32 sites, we now plan to roll out this highly innovative agreement to at least another 30 pubs in 2022. This unique model enables food entrepreneurs among our tenants and lessees to participate in the Marston's franchise agreement without compromising their personal creativity.”

Cote builds new property team: Cote, the French brasserie chain backed by the Partners Group, has assembled a new property team, including a new property director, Louise Morgan, Propel has learned. It is believed Morgan, who for the past seven and a half years has been senior acquisition and development manager at Costa Coffee, will join Cote at the end of January. Meanwhile, the Jane Holbrook-chaired business is understood to have appointed Kerry Fay, who has been an estate manager at Stonegate Group for the past five years, as its head of estates. The circa 80-strong business is also believed to have appointed Holly Paine, who has been a senior design manager at ASK Italian since April 2017, as its new head of design, starting early next year. In September, Cote appointed Keith Lloyd, ex-central head of operations for UK and Ireland at Nando’s, as its new managing director. This summer, Cote launched the trial of a new evolution site at its most recent opening in Solihull. The launch followed an extensive piece of research and a new design, which includes a lighter colour palate. The business hopes to take learnings from the new restaurant to help it update the rest of its estate in time as it looks to make the brand more “everyday special”.

Foodservice ‘stand-out performer’ for EG Group as it reports revenue up 20.4% in latest quarter: Forecourt and roadside operator EG Group has reported gross profit in its foodservice operations increased 46% year-on-year and 36% on a like-for-like basis in the third quarter. The company said foodservice was the “stand-out performer” as it experienced continued customer demand for “to go” and “delivery” offerings, as well as the ongoing pipeline of foodservice outlet openings across the group. EG Group said it had continued its investment in foodservice, including in the digital platform, self-service kiosks and the expansion of natural fast food brand Leon through the introduction of smaller formats and drive-thru sites – the first of which opened in Leeds, in November. During the quarter, EG Group completed the acquisition of 100% of the shares in Amsric Food, adding 52 KFC restaurants and establishing EG Group’s position as the largest franchisee in western Europe for the KFC brand. Following the quarter end, EG Group acquired Cooplands, the UK’s second largest bakery chain. EG Group, which was founded by the billionaire Issa brothers in 2001, reported total revenue of $7.2bn for the three months to 30 September 2021, up 20.4% from $6.0bn in 2020. Group Ebitda increased by $48m from the previous quarter, to $428m. Zuber and Mohsin Issa said: “While all parts of EG Group made a good contribution, foodservice was the stand-out performer during the quarter, driven by strong customer demand for delivery, click and collect and the overall quality, range and locations of our foodservice outlets. We are excited by the quality of the business and the potential growth opportunities to expand our foodservice network across the UK. With the combination of our proprietary brands, Leon and Cooplands, and our strategic partnerships with some of the world’s most popular brands, we are well-placed to make further progress in the final quarter of the year.”

Prospect Pubs & Bars secures fifth site: Prospect Pubs & Bars, owned by Dan Shotton and Mark Draper, who sold Redcomb Pubs to Young’s in 2019, will open its fifth site in mid-January. The pair have taken on the Joiners Arms in Bloxham, Oxfordshire, a grade-II listed property originally built as a 16th century inn with courtyard and stables, and that retains many of its original features. The new owners are currently undertaking a major refurbishment and extension programme that will add to and enhance the venue’s dining and outdoor areas. Inside, there will be space for 130 dining covers thanks to a new orangery restaurant, while outside, an extended 70-cover terraced patio will boost the alfresco drinking and dining options. The food offering will focus on locally-sourced seasonal produce, with pub classics sitting alongside more premium gastro dining dishes, daily specials, an extended grill section and vegan and vegetarian options. The drinks offer will include beer, ale, cider, spirits, wine, low and no-alcoholic options and a range of barista-made Fairtrade coffee and tea. Shotton said: “The Joiners is a fabulous country pub of scale and complements our other sites in the region, The Evenlode in Eynsham and The Royal Oak in Marlow. Across the Prospect Pubs estate, all our sites stand by the same ethos. We aim to create authentic British pubs that stand up for good old-fashioned hospitality, offer a warmth of welcome and embed themselves into the local community. In a nutshell, they’re pubs that we would love to visit ourselves, and we can’t wait to put The Joiners Arms on to this list.” As previously reported, the group plans to increase its rate of openings to between five and seven sites a year from 2022.

Ready Burger plans Camden opening: Ready Burger, the fledgling plant-based restaurant concept founded by boxer Anthony Joshua’s former personal chef, is planning to open a third site in the capital, in Camden. The business, which earlier this summer closed a campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube after raising £2m, is understood to have applied to take over an empty retail unit in Camden High Street. The company – founded by Adam Clark, who worked for Joshua during five of his world title fights, and entrepreneur Max Miller – launched its debut site in London’s Crouch End. It opened a second site in Finchley Road this summer. It was hoping to add two further sites in London this year before expanding into other major UK cities towards the end of 2022. It is thought the business will start opening franchise sites in 2023 and plans to have a 40-strong estate by 2024.

Elephant Park secures four new east Asian F&B brands: Elephant Park, the south London leisure and dining destination, has announced the signings of four east Asian food and beverage brands. Esports café Wanyoo, Taiwanese tea specialists YiFang and restaurant and bar Oisoi have taken an inter-connected unit spanning more than 6,000 square feet, and they will be joined by sushi and hot food outlet Kokoro. Founded in 1998, Wanyoo has more than 1,300 locations across four continents and this site will be the brand’s fourth in the UK, covering 1,917 square feet and seating up to 45 players. YiFang will take a 226 square-foot unit within Wanyoo, offering its range of fruit tea and fresh milk tea. Oisoi, having signed for a 3,968 square-foot 130-cover restaurant, will become Elephant Park’s largest dining outlet to date. Collaborating with Michelin-starred chef Max Castaldo and combining sous vide with traditional wok fried skills, it will offer an extensive choice, from an artisan dim sum lunch and Michelin-style afternoon tea to a formal all-day à la carte menu. Adjacent to 400 Rabbits in Ash Avenue, meanwhile, will be Kokoro, a Korean/Japanese takeaway-focused brand set over 1,000 square feet. The sushi and bento restaurant has expanded significantly throughout the UK since launching in south west London ten years ago. Nash Bond, CF Commercial and Shelley Sandzer represented the landlord, Lendlease.

Ocean Basket confirms UK launch, plans further openings: Ocean Basket, the South African casual dining brand focused on seafood, has confirmed it will make its UK debut next year, and is eyeing further openings. Propel revealed last week that Ocean Basket, which was founded in Pretoria in 1995 by Fats Lazarides, had secured the former Cafe Rouge site in Bromley’s Market Square, for an opening next spring. The brand, which is led by chief executive Grace Harding, currently operates 200 restaurants in 19 countries including Cyprus, South Africa, Mauritius, Kazakhstan, Dubai and Malta, under a franchise/licence model. Ocean Basket said it is “committed to offering quality seafood at a great price in a relaxed, modern Mediterranean home”. The business is now working with CDG Leisure to find prime spaces, first within the M25, then nationwide in the next two years. Richard Negus, of AG&G, acted for the vendor on the Bromley deal, while Sammy Weinbaum, of CDG Leisure, acted for Ocean Basket.

Coffi Lab makes its Cardiff debut, lines up fifth site: James Shapland, the co-founder of Coffee#1, the Caffe Nero-owned brand, has opened its first site in Cardiff, and lined up a second opening in the Welsh capital. The company opened its fourth store in Llandaff High Street last weekend. It will follow this with an opening in Penlline Road, in the Whitchurch area of Cardiff, in the new year. In September, Shapland told Propel that Coffi Lab was planning to open 50 sites over the next five years. Sites in Llanishen and Malvern are also thought to be under offer. Shapland co-founded Coffee#1 in 2000 and went on to grow it to 15 sites across Wales and the south west, with an annual turnover of £5m a year, before selling it for an undisclosed sum to Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain in 2011. He launched Coffi Lab earlier this year in Monmouth, with further sites following in the summer in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and Frogmore Street, Abergavenny.

Little Lion Entertainment to launch Tomb Raider immersive experience in London next year: Little Lion Entertainment, which was behind The Crystal Maze Live challenge attraction, will launch a Tomb Raider immersive and interactive experience in Camden Market next April. The group has partnered with Paramount and Crystal Dynamics for the concept, which will take visitors on a live Tomb Raider adventure through environmental puzzles and exploring jungles and scenic worlds in the 30,000 square-foot venue, as live actors and characters from the franchise come to life. Tom Lionetti-Maguire, chief executive and founder of Little Lion Entertainment, said: “Camden has always been one of the coolest and most vibrant places anywhere on earth, so to be adding to the market’s leisure and entertainment with such a unique and exciting new experience is a dream come true.” Little Lion launched Chaos Karts, an immersive go-karting experience, in Shoreditch in August, and also has plans for a Judge Dredd-based immersive experience.

Benugo launches 100% carbon neutral coffee menu: Benugo, the operator of deli cafes and catering in high-profile venues such as the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, has partnered with ClimatePartner to launch a 100% carbon neutral coffee menu in all its outlets. This includes more than 15 high street stores and station espresso bars, and more than 50 business and industry locations. The new menu will allow customers to see the carbon footprint of the most impactful hot drinks so they can make an informed choice. Each product’s raw ingredients, transportation, the milks added, the grinding itself and the cup used has been measured and offset through carbon avoidance, reduction and removal projects. Benugo commercial director Shane Kavanagh said: “We hope being totally transparent with our customers on carbon cost will help them make an informed choice to reduce the carbon emissions associated with each cup of Benugo coffee. We have chosen to offset all of the carbon emissions associated with our coffee menu into high quality certified projects that also support local communities in coffee growing areas. It’s not the complete answer but is a critical and important step in our wider sustainability journey.” Benugo customers will be invited to scan a QR code for further information on the footprint measurement, the reduction measures being taken and the offset projects being supported. Founded in London in 1998 by brothers Ben and Hugo Warner, Benugo earlier this year announced its intention to introduce more sustainable menus after expanding its partnership with Cooking Sections. The company also recently reported a return to profitability thanks to strong summer sales, having seen a pandemic-led turnover drop of more than 70% during 2020.

Costa to give away one million free drinks in December: Costa Coffee, which is owned by Coca-Cola, is giving away one million free drinks during December. The company is gifting the drink vouchers to Costa Club app members until Friday, 17 December. A spokeswoman said: “Connecting with friends or family over a coffee can be a simple yet powerful moment. As the season for giving approaches, we’re excited to announce our one million free drinks giveaway via our Costa Club app in the hope we can encourage our members to make someone’s day with a simple, but kind gesture of a cup of their favourite coffee.” The offer is only available to those who are already Costa Club app members at the end of November. The free drink voucher will automatically appear in the app's “rewards” section.

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