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Mon 13th Dec 2021 - Update: Fulham Shore, ‘Plan D’, EasyHotel and Budweiser Brewing Group
Franco Manca owner set to put payouts back on menu: The operator of the Franco Manca and Real Greek restaurant chains is expected to start paying dividends at its full-year results after strong trading. The Times reports Fulham Shore’s performance during the pandemic has been among the strongest in the restaurant sector and the board is considered odds-on to make a final payout for the year to the end of March. A source close to the company said: “It will make a decision towards the year-end, in March, with an announcement likely to be made as part of a pre-close update in mid-March.” The group made no mention of dividends at its interim results, although at a trading update in September the board said it was “the right time to consider introducing a dividend policy”. At its half-year results, it swung back into the black and generated a cash inflow from operating activities of £15.6m. Having started this financial year with net debt of £3.6m, it entered December with net cash of £5.1m, giving it financial headroom of £20m with bank facilities. The group, which has 57 Franco Manca outlets and 21 Real Greeks, upgraded its revenue forecasts for the fourth time in five months and said it is still seeking expansion, with another 21 sites in solicitors’ hands and no impact visible from the Omicron variant. David Page, the chairman, said at the interims the group had seen “continued trading momentum”, with October and November both ahead of pre-pandemic levels. The former boss of both Pizza Express and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Page set up Fulham Shore in 2011 as a quoted shell and in 2015 acquired Franco Manca for £27.5m when it had ten restaurants.

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Sam Jones: 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 next video – which will be sent at 9am today (Monday, 13 December) – features Sam Jones, Junkyard Golf managing director, who talks about the evolution of the experiential brand from pop-ups to five permanent sites, evolving the offer, the advantages of in-house design, developing the bar offer and preparing for future expansion. Earlier this month, Premium subscribers received the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database showed 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, and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. 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 

Covid 'Plan D' already being considered would see English pubs and restaurants shut down: There is a blueprint for more stringent covid-19 measures being drawn up that could shut pubs and restaurants in England. The Mirror reports the so-called covid “Plan D” is being considered by the government, according to Whitehall insiders, just days after prime minister Boris Johnson implemented a raft of “Plan B” restrictions. “Plan B” sees masks becoming mandatory in most public indoor spaces, while the NHS covid pass will be required for entry into nightclubs and venues with large crowds. But as the crisis worsens, officials are reportedly drawing up a “Plan C” – and an even more draconian “Plan D” – amid predictions of one million Omicron cases by the end of December. Under “Plan D”, hospitality firms would only be allowed to serve outdoors, developing into a complete closure if infections continue to rise. Officially at this stage there is no “Plan C”, however reports suggest it could bring back the NHS covid app check-in for people going to pubs and restaurants. Face masks could also become compulsory in all indoor spaces and vaccine passports may be mandatory for more venues. People would also have to self-isolate for ten days after coming into contact with an infected person.

EasyHotel secures €50m to accelerate growth plans: EasyHotel, the international budget hotel chain, has received a €50m commitment from current shareholders Ivanhoé Cambridge and Icamap to support the execution of its future growth strategy. The company currently has an estate of 42 hotels with 3,977 rooms. It said the additional capital together with new bank funding recently secured will be used to develop or acquire new assets in key European cities. By 2026, EasyHotel is aiming to more than triple the size of its owned and leased estate which currently comprises 15 hotels, with a total of 1,723 rooms, in the UK, France and Spain. While many hospitality groups have been immobilised by covid, EasyHotel said its focus on its budget model had enabled it to successfully navigate through the pandemic, even allowing for the opening of two hotels over the past 18 months (Cardiff, Oxford), and the launch of the works of five new hotels (Paris Charles de Gaulle, Barcelona, Dublin, Paris Aubervilliers, Cambridge). EasyHotel said it delivered a “strong operational performance” following the gradual removal of lockdown restrictions across Europe earlier in the year. The company has been performing at above pre-covid levels, with occupancy rates regularly exceeding 80% since August, and since October most properties are reaching around 10% growth on a like-for-like basis compared with the same period in 2019. Karim Malak, chief executive of EasyHotel, said: “We are delighted to receive this funding from our investors, a demonstration of their confidence in the future prospects of EasyHotel. The investment strengthens our position to capitalise on the strong underlying structural drivers across our markets, allowing us to continue to build and develop our estate in key cities across Europe. Our industry is starting to see a recovery following the impact of the covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns. Trading at EasyHotel has been particularly good in recent months and at times has been even stronger than pre-pandemic times. Our strategy has always been to open hotels in key city centre locations and offer comfortable rooms at an affordable price, with excellent Wi-Fi and bedding. Recently we have become more relevant than ever as consumers look for low-cost and low-carbon options in areas near to tourist attractions and events, while tightened corporate travel budgets make EasyHotel a practical and secure choice for business visitors seeking optimal value for money.”

Budweiser Brewing Group appoints Brian Perkins as new UK & Ireland president: Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I, part of AB InBev, has announced Brian Perkins is to become the new president of its UK & Ireland and Spanish businesses. Perkins takes over from Paula Lindenberg and will be responsible for the brewer’s portfolio that in the UK includes Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona, Stella Artois and Camden. As Zone Europe commercial and marketing vice-president, Perkins was co-architect of the UK & Ireland strategy and has worked closely with the UK team for more than a year. He will continue the plans for large scale investment in the breweries, logistics, customer service, business-to-business technology and people and drive forward the UK’s ambitious growth strategy. He has worked at AB InBev since 2011 and has held several senior roles including vice-president and head of sales, marketing and digital transformation for EMEA, co-founder and head of growth for business-to-business and vice-president of global sales for the company’s premium and super premium brand portfolio. Lindenberg said: “It was a difficult decision to leave Budweiser Brewing Group UK & Ireland, one made due to family reasons. I feel privileged to have worked with such a talented, committed and resilient team that has inspired me every day. Despite some challenging times, together, we have achieved incredible results, grown the business, become more efficient, led on sustainability and supported our communities. I leave the business in a very strong position financially and operationally and confident in the knowledge that Brian is the right person to capitalise on the investments and strategies that the team and I have implemented and take the business to the next level of success. I also want to thank our wonderful customers, you have been real partners and I congratulate you all for the outstanding job you have done to bring our brands to the British consumer.” Perkins added: “I am thrilled to be leading the UK & Ireland business. We dream big at AB InBev and nowhere is that truer than in the UK; with our winning, premium portfolio we have the potential and the means to not only create huge, shared value for our customers and partners but also to elevate the entire category. We will continue to put consumers at the heart of our strategy and to build long term success with strong customer relationships, excellence in execution and commitment to sustainability and the local communities we serve.”

Firms make a dent in covid loan debt pile: Lending to companies is forecast to have fallen this year in a sign that some businesses are making progress in paying down the debt piles that corporate Britain amassed to survive the pandemic. Net bank lending to businesses is expected to have gone down by 0.3% to about £478bn after the stronger than expected economic rebound from the depths of the covid crisis helped companies to tackle their debt loads, according to EY Item Club. Last year there was an 8% jump, or a net increase of £35.5bn, as companies borrowed to bolster their finances. This year’s fall in net lending is expected to be reversed in 2022, however, when the overall stock of loans to companies is forecast to rise by 2.4%, EY Item Club said. Anna Anthony, a managing partner at EY, described the decision by companies to prioritise debt reduction this year as “a double-edged sword”. “While the debt burden for many has been reduced, the focus on loan repayment over investment will have a long-term impact on growth, and for the banks facilitating lines of credit, the fall in borrowing activity – combined with the low interest rate environment – will have squeezed margins,” she said. While companies had to borrow to see themselves through the pandemic, the opposite has been true for many households. The lockdowns, which stymied spending on holidays and eating out, meant Britons who did not lose their jobs in the crisis enjoyed a jump in their savings. They used this cash to pay off debts and make big ticket purchases, with net lending through personal loans and credit cards falling 9.8% as a result in 2020. This year EY Item Club is forecasting a further 0.7% dip to £201bn.

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