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Wed 14th Sep 2022 - Update: Businesses warned of energy support delay, inflation falls, Hawksmoor, Center Parcs, Starbucks et al
Businesses warned of delay to state energy support: Companies have been warned by UK government officials they will have to wait longer than households for help from its £150bn energy package, due to the difficulty of launching a support system before November. The prospect of weeks of delays is increasingly worrying business leaders, since hundreds of thousands of companies reach the end of their fixed-price energy contracts at the start of October. Executives have been told in recent meetings with the government of the risk the scheme may not be ready until November, although officials said they still hoped the scheme would go live next month. “It is not worked through yet,” one government official told the FT. “I don’t know whether it will come in before November. There’s some debate about whether it can be brought forward and happen before then.” Companies have urged the government to act quickly to help them cover the soaring “costs of doing business”, with lobby groups in sectors such as hospitality and manufacturing saying many businesses are at risk of failure this autumn. A support package for Britain’s 28 million households, limiting annual gas and electricity bills to £2,500 on average, will be in operation from Saturday, 1 October. But a separate scheme for businesses is more complicated because there is no system for companies comparable with the rolling price cap already operated for households by Ofgem, the energy regulator. With no existing mechanism in place, ministers and officials are still struggling to work out how to limit companies’ energy bills. The scheme is likely to require legislation, which could add further delays since parliament is suspended until the Queen’s funeral on Monday (19 September) and next week breaks for party conference season into October. Prime minister Liz Truss said last week that businesses would be offered a package of help “equivalent” to the help being offered to consumers – for at least six months. The government would provide energy suppliers with the difference between a new lower price and what energy retailers would otherwise charge business customers. But while ministers have outlined this broad framework, they have yet to decide on the precise system for implementing it. Officials have indicated the plan is likely to involve a subsidy to energy producers that would then be passed to businesses in discounted bills, potentially using a code of practice that would be revised for the purpose. They have also suggested that it should be possible for companies to exit existing contracts struck at a higher rate earlier this year to benefit from the energy price assistance. Business leaders are also worried about a looming “cliff edge” in the spring because the full package is due to run out after six months. Beyond that point, the government will provide more targeted support only for industries deemed “vulnerable” – a definition that will be thrashed out in the coming months. Analysts at the consultancy Cornwall Insight last month forecast that companies renegotiating in October would face a fivefold increase in their energy costs without government assistance. A government spokesperson said: “Officials are working at pace to ensure that support is delivered to businesses in a timely manner. Details of the scheme and implementation timings will be announced as soon as possible.”

Next edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows sector gradually building back from pandemic with almost 50% of multi-site companies in profit: The next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows the sector is gradually building back from the pandemic, with almost 50% of multi-site companies making a profit. This is an improvement on the 41.6% reported in July. The next edition will show 326 companies making a combined loss of £5.4bn compared with 293 companies in profit – making a combined £1.5bn. The 619 UK pub, restaurant, cafe and hotel operators featured have collective turnover of £31.3bn. Premium subscribers will receive the latest edition of the Blue Book on Friday (16 September), at midday. Another 22 companies have been added, while accounts have been updated for 42 businesses. 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 will also 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. 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 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.

UK inflation unexpectedly falls to 9.9%: Inflation rose by 9.9% in the 12 months to August 2022, down from 10.1% in July, but remains close to a 40-year high. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) had fallen below 10% as fuel prices began to fall. It comes as the UK faces a cost of living crisis, with fuel, food and energy prices soaring for months. Economists had forecast that the inflation rate would rise to 10.2%. The lower price of fuel was the main reason for the fall in the annual rate of inflation, the ONS said. But the rise in food prices has been the main reason for the overall inflation figure remaining high. July’s rate of inflation had been the highest since the early 1980s. It is expected that the Bank of England will again hike interest rates next week as it seeks to rein in rocketing inflation.

Hawksmoor criticises pressure to close on day of Queen’s funeral: Hawksmoor has said businesses should not be pressured to close “out of respect” for Queen Elizabeth's funeral on Monday (19 September), after supermarkets and retailers unveiled plans to shut their doors. The Telegraph reported that Hawksmoor, which runs ten restaurants in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, said it was planning to keep all its sites open on the bank holiday for the funeral, aside from its restaurant in Guildhall, which it always shuts on public holidays. Writing on Twitter, Hawksmoor said: “If you want to shut, so you/your staff/customers can grieve or take part in an important national moment, then you should. Just try not to make it sound like you are ‘showing respect for the Queen’ and implying that those doing differently are not. Respect for the Queen (to me) suggests tolerance to how others feel or behave, however they grieve (even ‘whether’ they grieve). No one should feel that their quiet, respectful decisions are being thrown out for public judgement on social media. There is no ‘right’ answer.” There is no obligation for retailers to close on the bank holiday, and restaurants and pubs are also able to decide whether they want to remain open. Some, such as brewer and retailer Greene King, have said they will remain open on Monday. Greene King said it was keeping its more than 2,600 sites open “for communities to gather to mourn and reflect together on the life of the Queen”. 

Center Parcs backtracks on Queen's funeral closure plans: Center Parcs has backtracked over a decision to ask guests to leave its sites on the day of the Queen's funeral. The company said it had made the decision “as a mark of respect” and to allow employees to “be part of this historic moment”. But the move prompted complaints from angry holidaymakers online. It would have meant some guests would have had to leave part-way through their break and return afterwards. Customers took to social media to express their anger, with one saying the last-minute change showed no respect to guests. Center Parcs had said guests would have to leave its five UK sites for 24 hours from 10am on Monday (19 September). The company has now changed its decision, saying that it will no longer require guests who are not due to depart on Monday to leave. Those due to arrive on Monday, however, will still not be able to check in until 10am on Tuesday (20 September). In a statement yesterday evening (Tuesday, 13 September), the company said: “The vast majority of our guests are either due to arrive or depart on Monday. We have however, reviewed our position regarding the very small number of guests who are not due to depart on Monday, and we will be allowing them to stay on our villages rather than having to leave and return on Tuesday.” The five locations of its holiday parks are Elveden Forest, Suffolk; Longleat Forest, Wiltshire; Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire; and Whinfell Forest, Cumbria. Facilities on-site, including restaurants, will still remain closed on Monday too. Center Parcs said it would be offering a discount for the lack of facilities available on that day.

Starbucks to invest another $450m as Howard Schultz vows rebound after company ‘lost its way’: Starbucks will invest another $450m overhauling its coffee machines and stores as it tries to accelerate growth, catch up with changing consumer tastes and mend relations with staff. The company had “lost its way” in recent years, said Howard Schultz, the founder who returned as interim chief executive in April. But, he predicted, “the best days of Starbucks are ahead of us”. He told an investor meeting in Seattle yesterday (Tuesday, 13 September) the company would deliver double-digit revenue growth over the long term, at the upper end of previous projections, with a similar expansion excess. The “reinvention” plan will include $450m of new investment in its North American stores next year, on top of 2022’s $1bn investment programme. Chief financial officer Rachel Ruggeri hailed “a new era of growth” and said Starbucks’ earnings could grow 15-20% annually over the next three years, compared with the 10-12% it had previously guided. Starbucks also unveiled new equipment that cuts the time it takes to heat food and create the increasingly complex cold drinks that now account for 70% of coffee sales. The new machines are needed to handle booming demand at its US stores and address the frustrations of increasingly complex orders that have exacerbated employee concerns about pay and conditions. The National Labor Relations Board has accused Starbucks of violating labour laws by withholding wage increases and new benefits from stores that have voted to unionise. The company has said it cannot extend such benefits without “good faith collective bargaining.” John Culver, Starbucks’ outgoing chief operating officer, told investors it would “continue to negotiate in good faith”. But he said he saw two paths for the company and its people. “We can work together as partners, side by side, or we can have a third party between us,” he said. “By working side by side, we can effectively deliver solutions that support partners in their jobs as well as in their lives.” Despite the union movement, chief strategy officer Frank Britt said Starbucks’ employee turnover had fallen from a peak in 2021 of about 22% above 2019’s level to just 97%of the pre-coronavirus pandemic rate. Starbucks executives said the company would increase its revenue in North America by about 40% and would more than double profits outside the domestic market on a corresponding increase in sales. Earlier this month, Starbucks appointed Laxman Narasimhan, the former chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, as its incoming chief executive, saying he would work with Schultz before succeeding him in April. Ruggeri also announced plans to resume share buybacks, which Schultz suspended in April to fund investments in the company’s operations, in FY2024. Including dividends, Starbucks would return about $20bn to shareholders over the next three years, she said.

Charlie McVeigh steps down as chairman of The Breakfast Club: Charlie McVeigh, the founder of Draft House, has stepped down as chairman of all-day concept The Breakfast Club, Propel has learned. McVeigh, who is also chairman of Butchies and Foodstuff, joined The Breakfast Club, which was founded in 2005 and is led by Jonathan Arana-Morton, at the end of 2019. McVeigh told Propel: “I am stepping back from formal involvement at The Breakfast Club to concentrate on other projects but will remain an enthusiastic shareholder and cheerleader for what is one of the most potent and distinctive brands in the sector. I wish Jonathan and the team well for the future.” Earlier this summer, Steve Locke, co-founder of the Be At One cocktail chain, stepped down as interim managing director of The Breakfast Club, to focus on his bar venture Lockes. Last November, the 13-strong The Breakfast Club opened its latest site on the former Cafe Rouge premises in Chelmsford’s Moulsham Street – its third opening outside of London. The company said at the time it was looking to triple in size over the next five years. 

C&C Group expects first-half revenue to be broadly in line with pre-covid levels but sees slowdown in on-trade momentum: C&C Group has reported it expects first-half revenue to be broadly in line with pre-pandemic levels but has seen a slowdown in on-trade momentum during the second quarter. In a trading update, the company stated: “In the six months to 31 August 2022, C&C expects to deliver net revenues of circa €900m, approximately up 35% on the same period last year and broadly in line with the comparable period pre covid-19 (first half FY2020). Corresponding operating profit for the first half of FY2023 is expected to be in the range of €52-55m, compared with €16m in the prior year and €64m in the first half of FY2020. Trading through the first half of FY2023 saw demand return robustly at the start of the period, however, consistent with the wider market and the impact of inflation on discretionary consumer spending, the group has seen a slowdown in on-trade momentum over the second quarter FY2023. The group is pleased to report that it expects net debt to adjusted Ebitda of approximately 1.5 times as at 31 August 2022, achieving its previously stated target. This further reduction in leverage multiple reflects the benefit of €43m proceeds from the first two tranches of three equal tranches from the sale of the group’s interest in Admiral Taverns, in addition to good cash generation from the business over the first half of FY2023. As a consequence of the group’s balance sheet strength and strong cash flow generating capability, it is the board’s intention to review the potential return of capital to shareholders, including dividends, in the second half of FY2023.” The group will announce first-half results on Thursday, 27 October.

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