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Thu 14th Jul 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Collins – 400-site target for Lounge brand is conservative when compared to typical peer set, FY22 openings produced average weekly sales of £30,600: Nick Collins, chief executive of café bar operator Loungers, has said the historic target of 400 sites for the group’s Lounge brand continues to look “conservative” when set against its typical peer set, such as Costa Coffee and JD Wetherspoon. Collins used the example of the group’s Sentado Lounge in Sittingbourne, which has a population of circa 60,000, and is joined in the town by Costa, Greggs, Wetherspoon, Nando’s and Starbucks, to set out the brand’s expansion potential. Collins said: “Sittingbourne has a very typical retail and leisure line up for a Lounge location, and I think it helps understand the potential scale of the Lounge business. I mentioned some of the food and beverage operators, and you consider Costa has over 2,000 sites in the UK, Starbucks over 1,000, JD Wetherspoon over 800 and Nando’s over 500. So, when we talk about the capacity for in excess of 400 Lounges, I think that really helps set that out, and why we believe it’s a very conservative estimate.” Collins said its 27 openings in the year to 17 April 2022 produced average weekly gross sales of £30,600 compared to the “mature Lounge average of £27,600”. In the year, the company opened 11 market town-based Lounge sites, eight large town Lounges, five coastal Lounges, one retail park unit, one in Greater London and one Cosy Club. Average net capex for the Lounges was £735,000, with rent as percentage turnover of 5.5%. The performance comes as the business confirmed it was increasing to five build teams and now had the capacity to open around 32 new sites per year. Collins told Propel: “I think the last couple of times that we’ve talked to the City, we didn’t want to rush into this. We wanted to be really confident that we can continue to deliver a high number of new openings really, really well. It’s never been an issue of concern about availability of property, it’s always been, can we open them to the best possible standards? I think we’re confident that we can, and we’re excited about the acceleration. It has been four years now that we’ve been opening 20 sites a year, so it’s not a massive step up.” Collins reiterated that value for money is “absolutely paramount” for the business, saying: “We’ve historically been really, really protective over that, and that’s never been more so than during the last 12 months. We’ve taken a bit more price than we would do typically. Typically, we’d be somewhere between 1% and 2% on price point, and we’ve taken a little bit more than that. But I think, generally speaking, we’ve taken far less than the rest of the sector, and we are in a fortunate position because we can mitigate some of the inflationary pressure through scale purchasing, through the fact that we continue to grow through operational gearing, and the fact we’ve got a really wide and varied menu. We can engineer it in such a way that if we’re coming under pressure on certain ingredients, on certain lines, then we can adapt our menu to take account of that.” See Company News for Loungers chairman Alex Reilley on why the company’s experience of the 2008 financial crash gives it confidence now.
 

Industry News:

Sponsored message – trade registration opens for London and Manchester craft beer festivals: Trade registration for We Are Beer’s flagship events, the London Craft Beer Festival and Manchester Craft Beer Festival, is now open. London Craft Beer Festival, which celebrates its tenth year, will be returning to Tobacco Dock on 12 and 13 August. The festival, which has become a must-not-miss event in the British and European craft beer calendar, showcases the very best of UK craft beer. Before then, the Manchester Craft Beer Festival, after a sell-out launch year, will take over Depot Mayfield on 22 and 23 July. Co-founder Greg Wells said: “Craft beer continues to evolve, with trends in styles, innovation and new-to-market breweries continuing to make it an incredibly dynamic and exciting category. We’re proud our festivals have become such an important event for beer buyers – from the groceries through to the independent restaurant. We feel there are no events in the country that represent the best in modern beer like ours – from leading domestic brands like Tiny Rebel, Northern Monk and Lost & Grounded through to imports from Duvel, Budvar and the Brewers’ Association of America. Craft beer goes from strength to strength.” To register for trade tickets, click here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com.

Only a quarter of companies in next edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book have profit margin of more than 5%: Only a quarter of the 590 companies in the next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book have a profit margin of more than 5%. Premium subscribers will receive the latest edition of the Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, on Friday, (15 July) at midday. The database shows the effects of the pandemic, with total losses of £5.8bn being reported by 344 companies. However, a further 246 sector companies are still reporting total profits of £1.2bn. The 590 UK pub, restaurant, cafe and hotel operators featured have a total turnover of £28.6bn. In the next edition, 33 companies have also reported updated accounts. The Blue Book, which is updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Premium subscribers also receive 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. Premium subscribers also now have access to the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which is an exhaustive guide to the companies offering a food and beverage franchise in the UK and will be updated every two months. 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 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.

Staff shortages result in 16% revenue drop with one in seven jobs unfilled, number of licensed premises sees first net increase since covid: Staff shortages in the sector are resulting in businesses seeing their revenue being hit by 16%, with one in seven hospitality jobs currently unfilled, according to new research. Almost half (45%) of businesses have reduced trading hours and a third have had to close for a least a day, the 11th Future Shock report from UKHospitality and CGA has revealed. This despite 77% of operators increasing pay to retain and attract staff, resulting in an 11% increase in average pay levels for hospitality staff over the last year. This rise in labour costs is just one of the cost price pressures affecting businesses in the sector, with 93% of hospitality operators reporting higher energy costs, for example. Year-on-year inflation was running at 10% in the first quarter of the year, and four in five (83%) business leaders in the sector reported being concerned about ongoing foodservices price rises. Like-for-like sales in the sector are back to 2019 levels, buoyed by takeaway and delivery sales, and there’s been a 1% net increase in the number of licensed premises in the UK between December 2021 and March 2022 – the first increase since the covid pandemic. However, these are rare bright spots for an industry battling to survive an onslaught of challenges, the report said. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The sector has proved its value to consumers post-pandemic, with sales back to 2019 levels, but the labour shortage, inflationary cost pressures and dropping consumer confidence make it extremely difficult for any business to achieve real-terms year-on-year growth at the moment, and there is little prospect of a respite on the horizon.” Karl Chessell, director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA by NielsenIQ, added: “Hospitality remains a very attractive sector to consumers and investors alike, and appetite for the experiences it provides is undiminished. However, while underlying demand is high, inflationary pressures are now squeezing consumers’ spending and hurting both profit margins and investment plans.”

Just Eat launches £1m financial support package for independent restaurant partners: Just Eat has launched a £1m financial support package for its small, independent restaurant partners, designed to help them navigate rising inflation. The fund includes a package of measures offering marketing and financial support, as well as access to fast funding with flexible repayments via finance provider YouLend, with whom Just Eat has partnered. Furthermore, Just Eat has partnered with wholesalers Booker to offer all restaurant partners cashback on their supply purchases (a spend of £500 a week earns 5% cashback) and is providing 1,000 discounted pedal bikes for cheaper alternative to fuel deliveries. Andrew Kenny, UK managing director at Just Eat, said: “Just Eat is only successful if our restaurant partners are successful. Our restaurant partners are facing an increasingly tough economic climate – Brexit has reduced the supply of staff and delivery drivers, multiple covid lockdowns forced the closure of dine-in businesses and inflation has put upward pressure on prices as well as on customers’ wallets. We hope this financial package will provide them with the support they need during what is a challenging time for them to operate.”

London’s hotel industry reports highest monthly room rates on record: London’s hotel industry reported its highest monthly room rates on record in June, according to new data from STR. Average daily rate stood at £209 while revpar was £173.60. Occupancy for the month was 83.1%. The occupancy level was the highest in London since July 2019 but still came in 7.3% lower than the pre-pandemic comparable (June 2019). 

Cost-of-living crisis sees huge increase in diners using banking app rewards when eating out: The cost-of-living crisis has prompted a huge increase in diners using banking app rewards when eating out, according to new spending data from advertising platform Cardlytics. Its Cost-of-Living State of Spend report showed the number of such offers rose by 784% between 2021 and 2022. The report, which analysed data from millions of UK bank cards as well as polling 2,000 consumers, said consumers are increasingly careful with their spending on dining and drinking out. It noted that while the removal of lockdown restrictions saw spend rise by 12,031% in pubs and bars, 748% in casual dining and 40% in quick service restaurants between 2021 and 2022 – spend across these sectors is still down compared to 2020. Spend on delivery fell 5% between 2021 and 2022 but is up 84% on 2020. Lucy Whittemore, senior vice president UK advertising at Cardlytics, said brands faced with the choice of passing on increasing costs to consumers or protecting their bottom line should instead invest in building brand loyalty. “By offering consumers tailored rewards, cashback and loyalty offers, brands can create longer-term affinity and support their customers when they need it the most,” she added.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a restaurant property group looking for a property manager. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “Thanks to its ongoing success, the time is right for the business to bring in a dedicated property manager who will give the estate the love and attention it deserves. As the property manager for the group, you will be a strong all-rounder who has previously looked after property and financial management for a restaurant group from landlord relationship to capex budgets.” The salary is up to £50,000. For more information, email sheila@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Loungers chairman Alex Reilley – our experience of the 2008 financial crash gives us confidence right now: Loungers chairman Alex Reilley has argued the company’s experience in 2008 provides confidence in the midst of current challenges. In his chairman’s remarks following the company’s full-year results, Reilly stated: “The next few months will undoubtedly be challenging. However, we have been planning for these headwinds for months now, and I believe we are not only positioned to weather a significant decline in consumer spending – or even a recession – but that we can actually take advantage of the circumstances. The reason for this confidence is that, as a business, we have experience of dealing with a seismic economic shock before, having traded successfully through the 2008 financial crisis. In 2005-06, the economy was buoyant and consumer spending was elastic, which was exploited by the sector, and specifically by casual dining operators who confidently increased their prices. As a small management team at the time, we took the view then that we should minimise any price increases and hold on to our value for money credentials. We resisted making short-term gains in exchange for being fully prepared should a recession happen. Ultimately, this approach paid dividends, and when recession hit in the autumn of 2008, we didn’t need to alter our proposition or change our pricing as the consumer recognised that we already offered great value for money. By contrast, many of our peers found they had driven price increases too strongly and resorted to discounting in a desperate attempt to drive volume, which ultimately ended up undermining their offer for years afterwards. By early 2009 we were confident that we would not only continue to trade well – and ahead of our peers – but also that we should continue to accelerate our rate of growth. As our peers retrenched, we expanded, taking advantage of an uncompetitive landscape for new sites. We were brave, ambitious, creative, and believed we could build something special, and these same attributes have never been more alive in the business as they are today. In my view, there are similar trends at play as we sit here 14 years on. Following the end of the third lockdown in 2021 we have seen prices in the hospitality sector surge. While some of these increases have been driven by a degree of necessity as supplier prices increased, some have also been driven by businesses trying to make up for months of lockdown. We have had to increase our prices in a targeted way, but by nowhere near as much as our peers. We have deliberately held back from doing so because we remember our experience in 2008, and how offering great value for money in an environment where the consumer is squeezed puts you at a distinct advantage.”

JD Wetherspoon sees share price fall 8.3% after warning annual losses will be bigger than forecast, plans to open 15 new pubs next financial year: JD Wetherspoon saw its share price fall 8.3% after warning annual losses will be bigger than forecast after it ramped up wages to attract staff and spent heavily on repairs and marketing. The company now expects losses of around £30m for the year to the end of July after investing in staff and the business to “strengthen our position” for the new financial year. Wetherspoon said although sales were now matching pre-covid levels, staff costs were far higher than before covid, with wages having to be hiked to overcome recruitment difficulties. Like-for-like sales in the fourth quarter improved to minus 0.4% compared with pre-pandemic levels. Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack said: “The 48 Lloyds pubs continued to outperform, with sales up 6.0% in the fourth quarter, reflecting their younger audience. The stronger demand from younger customers is also reflected in cocktails sales being up 18.6% and draught ale, lager and ciders sales being 8.0% below 2019. Average drinks prices rose by circa 4% in the third quarter, reflecting food, drink and utility cost inflation and the VAT increase, given the VAT cut benefit was passed on through both food and drinks prices.” Chairman Tim Martin told Propel the company is preparing to step up expansion once again, with 15 pubs planned in the new financial year. Martin said while supermarkets were eating into sales “to a certain extent”, Wetherspoon was not losing market share to any on-trade operator. “They help us”, he added. In terms of the impending change in Downing Street, Martin said he “hadn’t studied the form book” when it comes to who he wanted to become prime minister. He added: “We need someone who can create and stick to a sensible long-term plan. Boris appeared not to have a plan and he changed tack almost weekly according to the latest headlines – common sense and consistency are badly needed.”

Wadworth appoints Daniel Webber as new finance director: Devizes-based brewer and retailer Wadworth has appointed Daniel Webber, formerly of Matthew Clark, as its new finance director, Propel has learned. Webber joins Wadworth after three and a half years as financial controller of drinks wholesaler Matthew Clark. Previous to that, he had stints at Knorr-Bremse, General Electric and Rolls Royce. Earlier this year, Wadworth said it concluded the restructuring of its pub estate in 2021 and was encouraged by its rebound from the slow start to 2022. For the year to 1 January 2022, the company, which operates 19 managed houses and 132 tenanted pubs, posted turnover of £25.1m (15 months to 2 January 2021: £39.2m), with Ebitda of £1.64m (2021: (£4.15m)), and a pre-tax loss of £4.04m (2021: (£19.7m). 

Joe & The Juice UK sales up 37% in 2021, plans to double circa 60-strong estate: Juice bar chain Joe & The Juice, which currently operates 59 sites in the UK, has told Propel that its sales here last year rose 37% compared to 2020, with its performance in 2022 so far “looking even better”. It comes as the business, which operates 310 stores across 16 countries, increased its group revenue by more than 30% to 1,110m DKK (£126.1m) in 2021, with operating profit up by 9% from 249m DKK in 2020 to 272m DKK last year, “despite another 12 months with comprehensive covid-19 restrictions”. The company said it plans to open a further seven sites in the UK this year and is looking to double its store base here over the coming years. Thomas Nørøxe, Joe & The Juice chief executive, said: “We are very satisfied with the result. Although we were subject to difficult lockdowns for several months last year, we pulled through and delivered a result that not only exceeds our expectations, but also is in line with 2019 – a year that had no covid restrictions at all. 2021 gave us some of the best months we have ever had, especially in cities like Copenhagen, London and New York, where return-to-work had a very positive impact on customer traffic. Both the revenue and Ebitda development exceeded our expectations and confirm that we are on the right path towards our goal of having a positive cash flow after investments. This is supported by the promising fact that 2022 is highly likely to become yet another record-year for us.” The company said its Joe App reached almost a million registered users by the end of 2021, and the introduction of third-party delivery services increased digital sales to 25% of the total revenue of the year. The company plans to open more than 20 stores globally this year, fuelled by nearly 300m DKK in additional financing obtained during 2021. The management said it expects an increase in revenue by more than 30% in 2022, despite several macro-economic issues. Nørøxe added: “We are aware of multiple challenges emerging in 2022 and beyond, covid-19 is still a joker. Inflationary pressure and the geopolitical tensions could also affect us, but this does not change the fact that Joe & The Juice is in the best shape ever.”

Fazenda to make London debut with Bishopsgate opening: Premium casual South American operator Fazenda will open its first restaurant in central London in spring 2023 as part of a wider expansion plan, which will see a number of its sites rolled out across the city over the next few years, Propel has learned. Located in 100 Bishopsgate within the financial district, the newest addition to the Fazenda portfolio will be the largest of the group’s restaurants, taking over 10,000 square feet. The restaurant will be a sixth for the company, which currently operates sites in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham, and offers “high-end rodizio dining”. Managing director and co-founder Tomás Maunier said: “London has been on our radar for some time, so we are extremely pleased to have secured our ideal site in such a thriving location. We can’t wait to bring Fazenda to the people of London.” Chief executive Terence Langley added: “These past two years have been turbulent for everyone, with hospitality being hit particularly hard. We feel very fortunate to be in a position to be able to continue growing as a business and elevating the brand to the next level with our entrance into the capital.”

Foodco to hit 60 sites at Muffin Break next month, two more Jamaica Blue sites: Foodco will open its 60th UK Muffin Break site next month, in Houndshill Shopping Centre, Blackpool. It recently opened site number 59 in Fremlin Walk, Maidstone, its second Muffin Break in the Kent town. This follows the opening of two new Jamaica Blue stores, with another to follow in the coming weeks. The new Jamaica Blues are in the Broadway Centre, Ealing, and the Atria Centre, Watford, bringing the number of sites in the UK to 16. Number 17, in Kingston’s Bentall Centre, is set to open in late July. Nerissa Bancroft, brand operations manager for Jamaica Blue UK, said: “Jamaica Blue’s foundations are built on two simple beliefs that guide us in everything that we do. Firstly, a belief in sourcing the very best coffee, and secondly, only using fresh, premium ingredients to deliver contemporary café dishes with a twist. We’re thrilled to be opening at Ealing Broadway and excited to share our high-quality coffee and delicious menu with Ealing’s foodies!”

Fireaway nears 120-site mark, makes Northern Ireland debut: Fast pizza brand Fireaway, which earlier this year opened its 100th site just five years after its formation in London, has added a further 17 sites to its estate, including its first opening in Northern Ireland. Over the past few weeks, the business has opened in Clapham, Loughborough, Bolton, Stevenage and Woodley near Reading. At the same time, it opened on Church Street in Ballymena, to mark its debut in Northern Ireland. Mario Aleppo, founder and chief executive, told Propel in March that he sees the potential for it to grow to 500 sites within the next ten years. At the time, Aleppo said the business, which posted turnover of £35m in 2021, had another 27 sites signed up for opening this year in the UK. That same month, Fireaway made its international debut with a site in Amsterdam, while master franchisees have also been signed up in Canada, France, Germany, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Hoxton Bakehouse hits £500,000 crowdfunding target as it looks to open more sites: Hoxton Bakehouse, the south coast-based concept led by Florence Hellier and Darren Bland, has hit its £500,000 target on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube as it looks to open more sites. The group is offering 7.87% in return for the investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £5.9m. So far, almost 400 people have invested in the business, and the campaign is “overfunding” with seven days remaining. Hoxton Bakehouse has identified sites in Southampton and Southsea as well as potential sites in the Bournemouth region and the southern part of Surrey. In addition, the funds will be used to expand production, its marketing and sales teams, IT infrastructure and online offering. Last month, the business opened a site in Guildford for its ninth outlet.

JKS Restaurants partners with chef Luke Farrell for second Thai concept together: JKS Restaurants, led by Karam, Jyotin and Sunaina Sethi, has partnered with chef Luke Farrell for their second Thai concept together. Launching in September on Soho’s Rupert Street, Speedboat Bar will offer “fast and furious wok cookery with roasted meats and zingy seafood salads”. It takes both its name and inspiration from Bangkok’s Chinatown, where speedboat racing on canals is a popular sport. A menu which will utilise specialist Thai herbs and ingredients grown at Farrell’s nursery in Dorset will include curries with lychees and roasted duck, and soya chicken and winter melon. The only dessert will be a candied pineapple and butter pie, which is Farrell’s twist on a Thai favourite, while Thai spirits and rice wines will be available alongside sharing beer towers, slushies, chasers and cocktails. Farrell said: “Speedboat Bar will be inspired by my friends, the speedboat racers, whizzing down the klongs in Samut Sakhon, and the neon-fuelled party of Bangkok’s Chinatown. Speedboat will feature seafood salads hit with acid and chilli, wok flamed noodles, roasted duck curries, all manner of fermented vegetables, waxed meats and crispy omelettes on hotplates, and a tom yam recipe passed to me from my favourite racer.” Farrell first partnered with JKS on their first pop-up, Vietpopulaire, in London’s Chinatown in 2021. The partnership continued with the launch of two brands within Arcade Food Hall in Spring 2022 – Thai restaurant Plaza Khao Gaeng and Indonesian street food stall Bebek! Bebek!

Sessions confirms London debut for first branded site: Sessions, the food hall concept led by former Deliveroo managing director Dan Warne, has confirmed it will make its debut in London with the opening of its first branded site in Islington. As revealed by Propel earlier this month, the business secured the former Rodizio Rico site in Upper Street for its restaurant meets food hall concept, which will open under its eponymous name. The new 114-cover venue will feature four concurrent menus served for a limited time and developed in collaboration with a line-up of rotating chefs. The first chefs joining the starting line-up are: Hasan Semay – who is launching his first brand, Big Has in the space; Jay Morjaria with new Korean small plates brand, Tiger and Rabbit; Zoe Adjonyoh with Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen at Sessions; and Richie Hayes and Elliot Kaye with their brand Norman’s. Warne, chief executive of Sessions, said: “We’re establishing the architecture for food businesses of the future. Our vision is to make next-gen chefs and their creations more widely available through a model that’s reinventing how independent food brands can scale. In a nutshell, Sessions is a record label for food talent. We have scouts out in the market assessing what the hot new food concepts are and who the artists (chefs) could be. We then have a studio which helps those artists to produce brands which will work well in dynamic food environments. Then, through our operated sites, we introduce the brands to new audiences. Finally, we help the chefs scale their brands using licensed kitchens. Our new Sessions venue is going to be the ultimate proving ground for our chefs, allowing customers to discover their food in an environment where the founder is championed.” The company, which operates a successful chef-led food hall on Brighton’s seafront, earlier this year raised $10m (£7.4m) to fuel its expansion plans – with an aim of partnering with 15 more chefs and opening 500 more kitchens within the next 12 months.

Lane7 reveals activities and brands to make up Level X family entertainment concept: Boutique bowling company Lane7 has revealed the activities and brands that will feature in its new family entertainment concept, Level X. The new venues, which span 27,000 to 65,000 square feet, will launch this summer, including at the St Enoch Centre in Glasgow and Captain Cook Square in Middlesbrough. Guests will be given wrist bands to wear that activate each gaming experience and even allow them to pay for their food. The activities include Gutterball, which unlike traditional bowling lanes, uses augmented reality bowling – where the lane will have large scale graphics projected on to it which react to the player’s game play. The sites will also include “Alt-Verse” virtual reality zones which will allow customers to experience the latest in VR tech from around the world, including roaming multi-player games and interactive pods. The “Big Putts” mini golf course will use smart “in-ball” technology to track scores and wrist band tech to allow customers access to the course. The courses are designed to be a fully immersive experience, with light shows and large-scale installations. Some venues will also boast “Drift-Hall” – a cross between karting and a racing video game which is the first of its kind of experience in the UK. Many venues will also feature “Switch Hit” batting cages, “501” interactive cyber darts, “The Vault” escape rooms, “K-Pod” karaoke pods, “Tiki-Taca” football and arcades sourced from around the globe – including giant Hungry Hippos. Chief operating officer Graeme Smith said: “We’ve been around the world looking for the very best gaming technologies and a lot of what we’re going to launch has never been seen in UK markets – there’s nothing like it out there.” In preparation for the impending launch, Lane 7 has hired a new Level X head of operations. Tom Rooney joins from Tomahawk Steakhouse and has also previously worked for the La Tasca, Giraffe, CAU and BabaBoom.
 
The Light eyes further expansion as it opens Banbury site: Cinema and leisure operator The Light is eyeing further expansion after launching its latest venue, in Banbury. The company is anchoring phase two of the Castle Quay Waterfront development in the Oxfordshire town. The 55,000 square-foot venue is the brand’s 12th site, with the company now actively seeking further development opportunities across UK towns and cities. It has appointed KLM Real Estate to help expand its portfolio. The Light Banbury is a three-storey, canal-side destination comprising seven screens, as well as ten lanes of bowling, mini golf, a retro arcade, climbing centre, interactive darts and karaoke room. “We’ve always looked to push the boundaries of what cinema and leisure can offer,” said co-founder Keith Pullinger. “The Banbury opening marks another milestone for our business and is a sign of our intent to provide a unique mix of uses which resonates with our customers. We want to take that concept to as many people as possible and are actively looking for sites across the UK to put The Light at the heart of urban regeneration.” Since attracting investment in 2015, The Light has opened nine additional sites. It is also launching a 40,000 square-foot destination in Redhill, Surrey, in 2023 as part of its town centre development known as The Rise.

Whitbread starts construction of first ‘all-electric’ Premier Inn: Whitbread has started construction of the first “all-electric” Premier Inn hotel, in Swindon. The five-storey, 195-bedroom hotel will be fully heated and powered by grid energy generated from renewable sources and by on-site photovoltaic cells. It is the first Premier Inn to be designed without a connection to a natural gas supply and will also be thermally efficient, featuring energy and heat recovery systems including air-source heat pumps and new water-heating technology. The first green Premier Inn hotel opened at Tamworth in Staffordshire in 2008, achieving 80% less energy usage than a standard Premier Inn. Whitbread UK development director Alex Flach told Property Week: “If we are to achieve our target of becoming a net zero business by 2040, we need to find a replacement for natural gas across our estate. This is a considerable challenge as we rely on natural gas to heat water in our network of hotels and power many of our restaurant kitchens across the country. The new all-electric Premier Inn is designed to give us everything we need to run an operationally successful hotel. A combination of a thermally efficient building and on-site energy recovering and generating systems has given us the confidence to remove fossil fuels from the new Premier Inn.”

Oakman Group opens kitchen garden in Aylesbury as part of drive to sustainability: Oakman Group, the Dermot King-led pub-restaurant operator, has opened a kitchen garden at The Akeman Inn in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, as part of its drive to sustainability. While the group, which has grown to 40 pubs in just under 15 years, says it not aiming to become self-sufficient, it added that “it is conceivable that Oakman’s daily specials will one day all feature plant-based ingredients harvested in their own kitchen garden”. Founder Peter Borg-Neal added: “We’re investing in what I recognise is a very tiny step, but for a multiple-site pub group like Oakman, I think this is a first. It is so much more than being about food – it’s also about reinforcing the connection between our guests and the natural growing cycle through our seasonal menus. As well as re-using our natural waste for composting, the kitchen garden will help us take small steps in reducing our carbon footprint for food sourcing and deliveries.” As well as planting more than 500 trees, creating apple and damson orchards, the garden team has grown fruit and vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, beetroots, radishes, turnips, French beans, chilli peppers, edible leaves and herbs for seasoning.

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