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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 21st Feb 2018 - Update: Hotel Chocolat results, Booker/Tesco deal hostility, Feast It funding
Hotel Chocolat reports revenue and Ebitda boost: Hotel Chocolat Group has reported revenue increased 15% to £71.7m for the 26 weeks ended 31 December 2017 compared with £62.5m the previous year. Underlying Ebitda was up 15% to £15.8m compared with £13.7m the year before. Underlying Ebitda margin increased slightly to 22.0% compared with 21.9% the previous year. Profit before tax up 15% to £12.9m compared with £11.2m the year before. The company said it had a strong balance sheet with net cash at the period end of £18.3m compared with £16.2m the previous year. Ten new stores were opened during the period, contributing 5% to group sales growth. The company said the new sites featured a cafe offer and comprised a “wide diversity of locations” including city centres, market towns, retail parks and designer outlets. It also opened its first store in the Republic of Ireland. Co-founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell said: "This has been another period of strong progress for Hotel Chocolat with growth in both sales and profits. The critical Christmas period was again successful, helped by further improvements in availability, our best seasonal range and the extension of our one-stop gift solutions range. We have exciting plans in place for the key spring seasons of Mother's Day and Easter, and have recently launched a new cacao beauty range and a weekly subscription called Mbox. We are confident of further progress during the year. I would like to thank everyone in the Hotel Chocolat team for their dedication in delivering another successful Christmas. Recent trading, including the Valentine's period is in line with the Board's expectations and we continue to make good progress against our three key strategic objectives of opening more stores, improving our digital capability and increasing our production capacity."

Booker investors’ hostility grows towards Tesco takeover: Investors in Booker Group have been told by a second shareholder advisory group to vote against a planned £3.7bn takeover by Tesco as doubts about the deal continue to mount. Glass Lewis said the premium offered by Tesco “clearly lags regional trends”, adding: “We see little cause for Booker investors to support what appears to be a less-than-compelling control transaction.” It comes just days after Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), another advisory group, also recommended Booker shareholders should block the deal. ISS said the recent uplift in Booker’s share price meant that Tesco “appears to be getting the better deal under the current terms”. Opposition from Glass Lewis and ISS, which both advise institutions on how to vote on corporate issues, will be a blow to Tesco less than ten days before a shareholder vote on the deal, reports The Times. Until recently, Tesco had faced few challenges to its plan, announced in January last year, to merge with Booker, even from the competition regulator. The deal could potentially create an enlarged group with combined revenue of more than £60bn. The cash-and-shares merger values Booker shares at 205.3p each, reflecting a 12% premium on its closing price the day before the tie-up was announced. Since then, however, there has been a strong increase in the share price of Booker, as well as other food wholesalers. Its stock closed at 225.7p a share yesterday (Tuesday, 20 February). Sandell Asset Management, an activist American hedge fund that controls a 1.75% stake in Booker, had already said it believed Tesco was trying to buy the wholesaler “on the cheap”. It wants the terms of the offer changed so Booker pays out all its 2018 profits as a closing dividend to shareholders, rather than just 65% as planned.

London-based startup Feast It secures £700,000 to fund expansion plans: London-based startup Feast It, which describes itself as an Airbnb for catering and works in partnership the capital’s street food traders and restaurants, has secured nearly £700,000 towards its expansion plans. Feast It has received backing from investors including John Ayton, founder of the jewellery brand Links of London. Feast It said it helped to feed 200,000 people last year and plans to cater for more than three million this year. It has a network of about 250 street-food companies and more than 50 mobile alcohol vendors. Co-founder Digby Vollrath said the business had expanded recently to Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Bath and Brighton. He told The Times: “Event planners aren’t as willing as they once were to settle for the same boring old vol-au-vents. It is no surprise that Feast is growing so quickly.” The company said each trader was vetted heavily for quality of food, drink, style, reliability, hygiene, and quality of service. As well as supplying businesses including Samsung and Pernod Ricard, Feast It has also been used for private events including weddings.

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