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Tue 13th Sep 2022 - Liberation Group lfl sales up 6.3%, even with support announced UK utility costs will double in October
Liberation Group lfl sales up 6.3%, even with support announced UK utility costs will double in October: Channel Islands and West Country brewer and retailer Liberation Group has reported a strong summer of trading across its pubs and brewing business, but said the “trading outlook has clearly toughened, with our customers contending with a cost-of-living crisis and ourselves grappling with cost base pressures, the most extreme of which is utilities”. The Jonathan Lawson-led business said taking the period of 21 May to the 3 September 2022, total like-for-like sales across its managed pub division were up 6.3% versus the same period in 2021 and up 30% versus 2019. The period also included its highest ever single week of revenue during August. It said sales growth had been driven by an encouraging performance on drinks, a robust performance on food (which was only slightly negative due to the variance in VAT rates year-on-year in the UK) and record sales in accommodation, demonstrating another “strong summer of staycation and an encouraging recovery in business and international guests”. The company said: “A strong performance in the UK has been added to by an encouraging recovery in Guernsey and Jersey, benefiting from strong tourist demand and a gradual return to office working in St Helier, Jersey. Our tenanted partners have come out of the pandemic in a strong position, due to our continued support over the last few years, the quality of the assets and the hard work and commitment of our partners and their teams. As a result, we have seen an encouraging performance which has benefited, in part, from some targeted investment to drive volumes and with some strategic divestments, we are continuing to build a quality tenanted business with a high average Ebitda per pub. Within our brewing and drinks division, Butcombe has enjoyed a very strong summer including a record August driven by an excellent performance in the free trade, with record customer numbers and spend, continued growth of its packaging business and strong sales in our own estate. Own brewing volumes were 9.5% up on last year driven by strong demand for our keg portfolio of ales and lagers and we have also been encouraged by the robustness of our cask performance.” The business said it has not been immune to some of the inflation pressures that others have seen within the sector, but believes it is better placed and prepared to “manage, mitigate and avoid where possible and balance the need to deliver value for money to our customers whilst also protecting our P&L”. It said: “Within our managed estate, we have seen strong levels of food inflation, but our local suppliers and dynamic food team have worked together to find alternative products and develop new menus and dishes reducing our exposure to products such as oil where we have seen surges in price. We are also strongly focussed within our managed estate on the premium customer segments that are better positioned to withstand the cost-of-living crisis. Elsewhere we have seen the benefits of us becoming more efficient and leveraging the scale and expertise of the group without compromising on quality and customer service.” From a position of 65,000 loyalty members in 2019, the business said it had now grown its loyalty club to more than 131,000 members and it had also continued to grow its database, which now stands at more than 265,000 “enabling us to leverage significant value to our businesses by layering up and communicating targeted incentives and offers”. Building on its existing app, it has also launched a new web-based order and pay capability. The company said: “The trading outlook has clearly toughened, with our customers contending with a cost-of-living crisis and ourselves grappling with cost base pressures, the most extreme of which is utilities. The recently announced support from the government is welcomed and provides some reassurance for our customers, which is important and some short-term de-risking of extreme utility costs for business. However, even with the support announced, our UK utility costs will double in October. We are keen to understand further details from the government, including longer term utility support and actions to reduce VAT and suspend business rates. Once again, we have cause to be thankful of our group composition and geography as utility inflation and costs in the Channel Islands has been kept to a manageable level over the next few years, which helps blend and balance our overall cost base. Despite the obvious headwinds for our customers and ourselves, we are confident in our ability to deliver a fantastic Christmas for our customers and ongoing investment into our business is testimony to the belief in our teams and in the potential for our business over the next few years.”

Premium subscribers to receive videos from Propel Multi-Club summer conference next Friday: Premium subscribers are to be given exclusive access to the recording of the Propel Multi-Club summer conference. The videos will be sent next Friday (23 September), at 9am. They will include CGA’s managing director UK and Ireland Jonny Jones; Garrett FitzGerald, founder of Butchies; Steve Magnall, co-founder of Two Magpies Bakery; Johnnie Tate, founder of Yard Sale Pizza; Kam Dehdashti and Jamie Hazeel, co-founders of Little Door & Co; Alasdair Murdoch, chief executive of Burger King UK; Will Beckett, co-founder of Hawksmoor; Richard Colclough, managing director of Parogon Group; David McDowall, president and chief operating officer at BrewDog; and Andrew Andrea, chief executive of Marston’s. Olivia FitzGerald, chief sales and marketing officer of Zonal, hosts a panel of industry leaders who will share their lived experiences and discuss ways hospitality can overcome the current challenges, including how they are working with Hospitality Rising to grow and come back stronger. Meanwhile, Fleet Street managing director Mark Stretton hosts a panel on the future of delivery featuring Just Eat’s head of strategic accounts Kirsten Bohlke; Mario Aleppo, founder of Fireaway Pizza; Nathan Wall, chief operating officer at Tiny Cloud Kitchens; and Joe Heather, general manager at Deliverect. Premium subscribers will also receive the latest edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book on Friday (16 September), at midday. Another 22 companies have been added, taking the total number to 619, while accounts have been updated for 42 businesses. Premium subscribers also receive the Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, and the New Openings Database, which are also updated each month. Premium subscribers also have access to the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which 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 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; plus regular video content and exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Kwarteng criticised for leaving businesses in the dark over £200bn energy bailout: Business leaders have criticised the government after being left in the dark over the extent of support they will receive to pay sky-high energy bills. The Telegraph reported details of a support package announced by prime minister Liz Truss last week have still not been published and Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor, is not expected to set out full details of the government's spending plans until Thursday, 22 September. Energy industry insiders warned this week that details were needed within days for businesses to benefit from support this winter. Dr Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “We now need absolute clarity as fast as possible as to who will and won’t be helped, depending on the nature of their contracts. This is essential for businesses trying to plan their cash flow requirements in the next few months.” Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, called for clarity “as soon as possible in order to give hospitality businesses the best chance of survival”. The Federation of Small Businesses said its members fear a “cliff edge” next spring. There is confusion over whether the help for businesses – announced last Thursday (8 September) – can be introduced without legislation, which could delay its rollout, and there are also question marks over the level at which prices will be capped. The government has also not yet decided which businesses will receive help with their energy bills after an initial six-month period of promised support. Business groups expressed concern MPs will be unable to properly debate the terms of the multi-billion-pound energy package – the biggest intervention since the Second World War. Dr Barker said: “There should also be an opportunity for MPs to ask questions on behalf of local businesses during a debate where these issues can be raised.” Downing Street made clear that parliament will be recalled before the end of the month, amid concerns MPs would not be able to debate the energy package at all as a result of the mourning period following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Kwarteng is expected to unveil his long-awaited fiscal event around 22 September.

Gaucho boss – restaurants may shift to more seasonality: Restaurants shifting to more seasonal menus may be the “silver lining” of sky-rocketing food prices, Gaucho boss Martin Williams has told City AM. Hospitality venues have been forced to grapple with heightened prices for vegetables and proteins this year, in addition to energy bill increases that bosses say pose an existential threat to the sector. However, the chief of Rare Restaurants – which owns the M and Gaucho steak restaurant chains – told City AM these pressures may push chefs into making more environmentally conscious menu decisions. Restaurants being forced to be more conscious about seasonal produce was “not necessarily a bad thing,” Williams said. The restaurateur pointed to the French model, “where you will have asparagus two months a year” and said the world needed to “stop eating so many avocados” anyway. If high prices pushed the industry to be more environmentally conscious, then it was “at least a silver lining” of the current pressures facing venues .“It’s a time when the sector needs to be brave,” Williams said, praising the restaurant sector’s progress towards net zero over the past two years. “It would be very easy for it to be the first thing that is dropped [by struggling businesses,” he said. However, environmentally conscious options are not going to be the “make or break” for businesses, with headwinds increasing by record levels, Williams added.

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