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Wed 19th Jan 2022 - Update: JD Wetherspoon, Hostmore, covid restrictions to lift
JD Wetherspoon reports like-for-likes down 11.7% in year to date, will be loss-making in first half of financial year: JD Wetherspoon has reported like-for-like sales are down 11.7% in the financial year to date compared with 2020 and the business will be loss-making in the first half of the financial year. Total sales for the 25 weeks to 16 January 2022 are down 13.3%, compared with the previous year. The company stated: “Sales in the second quarter were affected by the ‘Plan B’ restrictions announced by the government in December. In the 12 weeks to 16 January 2022, like-for-like sales decreased by 15.6% and total sales by 16.6%.” Wetherspoon also said the circumstances surrounding “partygate” highlighted other ramifications of ‘lockdowns’ and pub closures. The company stated: “If, instead of partying in No 10 on the 20 May 2020, for example, the attendees had been able to visit a pub (pubs were locked down at the time) there would have been a number of advantages for the nation, including: central London pubs employ experienced staff, including highly trained managers, who would have easily dealt with the ‘high jinks’ alleged to have occurred at No 10, CCTV is in operation in central London pubs, so subsequent enquiries as to events are facilitated by the ready availability of evidence. In 2020, before vaccinations were available, Covid controls in pubs were superior to private parties, with screens, sanitisers, optimal seating layouts and so on. Wetherspoon, for example, registered more than 50 million customer visits in the second half of 2020, when pubs were permitted to reopen, and there were no outbreaks of the virus among customers, as defined by the public health authorities, during this time. As Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council said, in September 2020: ‘The data we have shows the infection rate has risen mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings. In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are covid-safe, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone's house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.’ Public finances would be in better shape – as Wetherspoon's annual report shows, Wetherspoon, it's staff and customers, normally pay around £15m of taxes a week, about one pound in every thousand collected by the government. Pubs did not open for a further six weeks (4 July 2020) after this event, so the Treasury lost large sums from Wetherspoon alone – a fraction of the contribution from the hospitality, travel and leisure industries. There are well documented social and health benefits from open hospitality venues, especially for people who don't, or can't, attend private parties.” Wetherspoon also took another swipe at investor Blackrock with regards to its corporate governance dispute. Wetherspoon stated: “Blackrock is reported to be the largest fund manager in the world, with $10tn of funds under management and, we understand, owns 3.51% of Wetherspoon shares, on behalf of its clients. Blackrock is highly profitable, having made around $1.7 billion of profits in its last quarter. Blackrock voted against all Wetherspoon's non-executive directors, for alleged shortfalls in corporate governance standards, at our November annual general meeting (AGM). Blackrock corporate governance executives, at the time of the AGM vote, had never met anyone from Wetherspoon – and there was no advance indication of their voting intention. Nor have Blackrock fund managers, with whom the company has had a positive relationship, queried Wetherspoon's governance in the years since our 1992 flotation. Blackrock itself infringes UK corporate governance guidelines since its chairman is also chief executive and it does not appear to observe the ‘nine-year’ maximum tenure guideline for non-executive directors. Wetherspoon has fully complied with the ‘comply or explain’ provisions of the corporate governance code and believes that Blackrock has not taken account of Wetherspoon's explanations, as it is bound to do by the code.” Wetherspoon also again called for a rebalancing of the VAT system. The company stated: “A historic anomaly of a previous era, when most beer was sold in pubs, is that pubs pay far higher taxes than supermarkets. Pubs pay 20% VAT on food sales, but supermarkets pay nothing. Pubs pay around 20p per pint of business rates, whereas supermarkets pay around 2p. The result is that supermarkets can afford to subsidise beer selling prices, using their tax advantage. The situation is crazy. If you hold a garden party at No 10, or Chequers for example, and buy the food from Waitrose, employing staff to prepare and serve it, no VAT is payable. However, fish and chips at your nearest pub will have 20% VAT added to the bill. The chancellor temporarily reduced VAT during the pandemic – but is shortly putting it back up to 20%, at a time when pubs are on their knees and when supermarkets are reporting record profits. It is an accepted principle that taxation should be fair and equitable. The far more onerous taxation of pubs and restaurants, often located next to tax-favoured supermarkets, is unfair and inequitable – and leads, paradoxically, to lower employment and taxes. The end of the pandemic is an excellent opportunity for a sensible rebalancing of the tax system.” Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “As mentioned in our update on 13 December 2021, the uncertainty created by the introduction of ‘Plan B’ covid-19 measures makes predictions for sales and profits hazardous. The company will be loss-making in the first half of the financial year, but hopes that, with the ending of restrictions, improved customer confidence and better weather, it will have a much stronger performance in the second half.”

Variety of brewing companies with retail estates to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A variety of brewing companies with retail estates are among the 88 new multi-site companies being added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday, 28 January, at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features Bermondsey-based Anspach & Hobday, which was founded by Paul Anspach and Jack Hobday in 2012, and currently has three sites. Also added this month is Plymouth-based microbrewery Steel Brew Co, which is looking to create a five-strong bar estate across the south west. In addition, Hertfordshire-based brewer and six-strong pub operator Farr Brew, which was founded by Nick Farr and Matt Elvidge in 2014, will be featured. Also included this month is Exeter Brewery – which is owned and led by Allan Collyer – and has acquired its debut pub after agreeing to take over the running of The Hour Glass in the city. Premium subscribers will also receive a 6,300-word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and 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. It features more than 2,000 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the sixth edition of the New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Friday, 4 February, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The sixth edition also includes a 19,700-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to another database – the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated monthly, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. 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 Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Hostmore aims to open potentially up to 30 QSR sites: Hostmore, the parent company of Fridays and the 63rd+1st concept in the UK, has said it aims to open potentially up to 30 additional quick service restaurant (QSR) sites across the UK in the next three years, subject to the brand’s success. As revealed by Propel, the company has confirmed it will open the first “Fridays and Go” site on the former Fatburger unit in Dundee’s Reform Street. Spanning circa 2,600 square foot, the new restaurant is expected to open in March and will offer “iconic items from the famous Fridays menu to those on the move or those that want to sit in”. Food and drink will be available to order digitally, with touch screens offering order and pay technology, and will be served in fully recyclable and compostable red and white striped Fridays packaging. Click and collect and delivery services will also be available at the Dundee site. The “Fridays and Go” menu will include iconic Fridays favourites such as: chicken wings, nachos, Fridays sesame chicken strips tossed in its legendary glaze, a selection of Fridays’ best ever burgers, including Fridays Glazed and To Vegan and Beyond, as well as premium coffee and milkshakes. New items will also feature on the menu including the bucket of bones and a boneless chicken dog. The restaurant is expected to create 25 full and part-time jobs. Robert B. Cook, Hostmore chief executive, said: “We are excited to be launching the first ever ‘Fridays and Go’ in Dundee – a vibrant city with a proud history of jute, jam and journalism, fantastic people, two great football teams and a bustling student community. We are always looking to offer customers new experiences under the Fridays umbrella. ‘Fridays and Go’ will deliver our best ever food at speed for customers on the move, with the iconic Fridays experience remaining a constant. We can’t wait to launch this new concept and continue to spread that Fridays feeling further across the UK and particularly in Scotland.”

All covid restrictions could end in March as government plans to drop most ‘Plan B’ curbs next week: Downing Street is drawing up plans to phase out England’s remaining pandemic restrictions from as early as March as prime minister Boris Johnson signals to his backbenchers that he is prepared to let the UK live with the virus. A senior source told The Guardian the government was looking at ending mandatory self-isolation for positive covid cases, saying it would be “perverse” to keep the measure in the long term. It could be replaced by guidance. Plans to end most “Plan B” covid restrictions in England, including working from home guidance and covid passports, are also set to be finalised and announced this week or early next week. But ministers are expected to continue in the short term with rules mandating mask-wearing in shops and on public transport. Johnson is said to believe he has been vindicated on the decision not to impose harsher covid restrictions amid the surge caused by the Omicron variant. He will convene a series of meetings this week to look at the trajectory of covid data. Two senior sources said covid certification and home working rules were “unlikely to continue” past next Wednesday (26 January), but mask-wearing could remain. Downing Street is also likely to lift the requirement for travellers to take a Covid test on returning from abroad, a key demand of the transport secretary Grant Shapps. In its autumn/winter plan, the government said it would review the future of regulations relating to self-isolation by the end of March 2022 but that was published before Omicron hit. On Monday (17 January), Downing Street said it would give businesses enough time before next Wednesday to prepare for the lifting of restrictions or any other changes.

Lion to sell Fourpure and Magic Rock craft brewers: Lion, the Australian brewing firm ultimately owned by Kirin, of Japan, has appointed Greenhill, the investment bank, to conduct a strategic review of Lion Little World Beverages UK. Its British business comprises Fourpure Brewing Co in London and Huddersfield’s Magic Rock Brewing, plus a microbrewery and four taprooms. The Times reports Lion said Greenhill would “scope potential buyers and explore alternative structures and funding”, insisting an outright sale was not the only option. Lion acquired Fourpure in 2018 for an undisclosed sum from Dan and Tom Lowe, brothers who started the business in 2013 on the Bermondsey Beer Mile. The following year, Lion swallowed Magic Rock Brewing, again for an undisclosed price. Magic Rock, founded in 2011 by Richard Burhouse and Stuart Ross, makes beer including Cannonball IPA, Saucery and Fantasma. Lion’s international business was launched in 2015 to sell a range of Australian and New Zealand craft beer. Gordon Treanor, managing director of its UK business, said the company had been making significant craft investments in Australia and America and needed “to make choices as to where we continue to direct our investment”.

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