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Tue 11th Jan 2022 - Christmas spending, covid restrictions, Jamie Oliver, Chipotle
Retail and restaurants held back as omicron dampened appetite for Christmas shopping and partying: Christmas retail and restaurant spending was held back last month as the spread of omicron and restrictions to tackle it took their toll on shopping and partying, new industry data shows. Sky News reports that figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and a separate monthly report from Barclaycard revealed how the covid variant – and measures to tackle it – dampened what is normally a buoyant period for much of the economy. The BRC’s report, compiled with KPMG, showed retail sales were 2.1% higher than in the same month last year, a slowdown from the 5% growth seen in November and well below the 9.9% growth for 2021 as a whole. Separate figures from Barclaycard – which draws on nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions – illustrated trends in wider consumer spending, taking in leisure and hospitality sectors as well as retail. They showed spending was up by 12.2% compared with pre-pandemic levels, though that was largely driven by supermarket spending and fuel. Restaurant spending was 14.1% lower than 2019 levels, a much wider gap than the 3.5% shortfall seen in November while hotels, travel agents and airlines also had a tough month as plans were put on hold. Card spending in pubs and clubs was 21.2% higher than before the pandemic but that was a slowdown from November’s 35% increase. The report partly attributed the wider spending slowdown to a strong November which had seen many shoppers do their Christmas shopping early. Jose Carvalho, head of consumer products at Barclaycard, said: “While consumer card spending levels are up on 2019, December was a mixed picture for retail, hospitality and leisure, as restrictions to tackle the spread of omicron started to take effect. More Brits were either isolating or choosing to stay at home due to the new variant, which hampered face-to-face retailers as well as hospitality and leisure outlets.”

Mark Wingett’s next quarterly pick of Companies to Watch to feature in updated Turnover & Profits Blue Book: The next edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book for Premium subscribers, to be published at midday on Friday (14 January), will feature group editor Mark Wingett’s next quarterly pick of the companies well-placed to grow in the post-pandemic era. His latest pick of companies are Brakspear, Simmons Bars, Hub Box, Park Holidays, Vaulkhard Leisure, Hostmore, QFM Group, Caprice Holdings and Ivy Collection. The picks are also accompanied by a 2,100-word report. The next edition of the Blue Book, which is updated monthly and produced in association with Mapal Group, will feature more than 500 companies. It shows the full damage done to the sector by the pandemic, with 321 companies making a combined loss of £8.17bn compared with 186 companies in profit – making a combined £797m. Losses now outstrip profits in the sector ten times over. Total turnover of the 500 biggest sector companies stands at £28.5bn. The Blue Book provides a five-year overview of turnover and profit, ranking companies according to turnover, pre-tax profit and profit conversion. It also provides details of directors’ earnings and highest paid directors. Premium subscribers also receive two other databases – the New Openings Database, produced in association with StarStock, and the Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, which are also updated each month. 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 single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. 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 Mark Wingett.

Jamie Oliver’s £1.75m windfall from ruins of collapsed restaurants: Chef Jamie Oliver’ has recouped £1.75m from the collapse of his restaurant business, but suppliers who were owed millions after the collapse of his empire will get a fraction of that. The chef closed 22 of his Jamie’s Italian restaurants with the loss of 1,000 jobs in May 2019 after profits plunged as customers stayed away. The business, Jamie’s Italian, owed around £83m when it went bust. Oliver ploughed in about £15 million of his own money, and now £1.75m will be paid to his holding company, Jamie Oliver Holdings Ltd. In January last year, the company’s administrator KPMG revealed that the majority of the £83m owed to secured and unsecured creditors such as food suppliers, councils and landlords would not be recovered. Auditors said that while three Jamie’s Italian restaurants and delis at Gatwick Airport remain open, the people owed money for the past eight months are likely to be significantly out of pocket. The Daily Mail reports that unsecured creditors, such as the suppliers owed millions, will have to share £600,000 that has been set aside for their claims. One of the largest debts to a supplier is the £221,494 run up by the chain with Direct Meats, based in Essex. The company’s director, Martin Blackwell, said in a report on the firm’s trading for 2019: “In the previous year we had established what we believed to be a strong relationship with Jamie Oliver’s Italian. And here we had seen more than a doubling in the business between the years 2018 and 2019. We were hugely let down by the businesses falling into administration, and without this our year-end figures, which are indeed satisfactory, would have been significantly improved and would have reflected the hard work and dedication of the officers and staff in taking Direct Meats forward.” Oliver’s spokesman could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman previously said the chef had reached ‘mutually consensual terms’ with his creditors.

Chipotle plans regional UK debut in Watford: Chipotle is planning to make its regional debut in the UK, in Watford. The US brand, which currently operates ten restaurants in London, plus two dark kitchen units, has applied to open in a vacant site in 60 High Street, in the Hertfordshire town. It follows 12 months in which the brand returned to the expansion trail in the UK, opening three restaurants in London, and a second dark kitchen unit. The company opened bricks-and-mortar sites last year in Chiswick, Clapham and Canary Wharf, as it looked to expand into “London villages”. The Clapham location is the smallest free-standing Chipotle restaurant in the world at 712 square feet. Last October, Brian Niccol, chairman and chief executive of Chipotle, said the brand’s recent openings in the UK had “exceeded expectations”. Talking on an investor call, Niccol said: “I would say the biggest difference is the first time we have opened our restaurants with our digital mainlines as part of the opening, and also having the access point of delivery. Hopefully, we can continue to get earnings in an environment over in the UK. So, we’re really excited about the results we’ve seen, but it’s early days and we want to make sure the performance is ongoing, not just at the opening.”

Ministers upbeat many covid restrictions in England will end this month: Ministers are increasingly optimistic that many of the restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus will end in England on 26 January, as internal data suggest the health service is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the spread of the omicron variant. Coronavirus case numbers have fallen in all regions and among all age groups in England in the past week. On Monday, 142,224 cases were recorded across the UK, down 10% on the 157,758 cases reported on the same day last week. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, introduced his so-called “Plan B” measures last month as the new strain spread rapidly across the UK; it included guidance to work from home where possible, masks for all indoor settings and vaccine passports for major events. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland mirrored his decision with similar measures, but later went further with limits on indoor socialising and large gatherings. Michael Gove, levelling up secretary, on Monday said the country had to learn to “live with covid” and admitted he was wrong to advocate within government for further restrictions. The FT reports one government insider saying “optimism is growing” that the measures will come to an end in just over two weeks. “Cabinet was presented with data where everything seems to be going in the right direction.” Another official close to the process said: “People are viewing 26 January as a waypoint for relaxing rather than maintaining the status quo or ramping up.” The person added that the government was “working on the basis” that measures would end. But a senior Whitehall official cautioned that it was “too soon” to definitively say whether the restrictions would come to end, but added that “the data isn’t currently tracking towards worst-case outcomes”. The Plan B measures have a sunset clause that will see them legally cease on 26 January. If Johnson seeks to renew them, he would be required to return to the House of Commons for another vote. Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptic Tory MPs, said that the prime minister would face a bigger revolt than when the measures were introduced if he seeks to extend them. “I think there will be even more people against it,” he said.

PM puts pressure on scientists to cut covid isolation period: Boris Johnson has piled pressure on his scientific advisers to cut the recommended covid isolation period to five days as health chiefs admitted they had misread guidance from the United States when they opposed a change. The Times reports that the UK Health Security Agency has acknowledged it was wrong to claim that the US five-day isolation period started “some days” later than the British seven-day rule. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is understood to be “frustrated” by the error. Several cabinet colleagues urged him to change the rules to ease absences in businesses and public services. He is open to the move if scientists conclude that it is safe but has yet to decide if he is willing to accept a bigger risk of spreading the disease. Advisers have told him that a five-day isolation period could lead to a third more people returning to work while still infectious. Johnson said he was considering the move, however, with government scientists told to look for ways in which isolation could be cut without creating any additional risk.

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