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Wed 9th Nov 2022 - Update: BrewDog’s David McDowall to replace Simon Longbottom as Stonegate CEO, JD Wetherspoon trading
David McDowall to replace Simon Longbottom as Stonegate chief executive: Stonegate Group, the operator of 4,500 pubs nationwide, has announced Simon Longbottom is to step down as chief executive at the end of February 2023. Longbottom leaves the business to pursue interests abroad. In post until the end of February 2023, Longbottom will remain a shareholder and will be working alongside founder and chairman Ian Payne to ensure a smooth succession. Longbottom will be succeeded as chief executive by David McDowall, who is currently president and chief operating officer BrewDog. Stonegate stated: “He is a highly regarded operator who has been instrumental in building BrewDog, which has grown exponentially since its inception in 2007. Today, BrewDog is a true disruptor in the pub and brewing space, as well as a leading player in the craft beer revolution.” McDowall is expected to join Stonegate Group in early 2023 when he will work alongside Longbottom until the spring in order to facilitate an orderly handover. Payne said: “The board would like to thank Simon for his significant contribution to the group’s success over the last eight years. During this time, Simon has been a much valued member of the senior team in building Stonegate Group into the leading pub and bar business which it is today. While he will remain in his current role for the next few months, he will leave with our very best wishes and we all wish both him and his family every success in their future endeavours overseas. Looking to the future, Simon leaves Stonegate in excellent health and trading extremely well. The board is confident that David will continue to drive Stonegate forward and take advantage of the many opportunities ahead.” Longbottom added: “It has been an honour to lead the team which has taken Stonegate from a challenger brand to industry leader in just eight years. From our pubs and bars to our people, the talent, passion and pride within the business is second-to- none and I have every confidence there are even more exciting times to come. It’s been an amazing journey but the time is now right for me to pursue other interests abroad. As a shareholder and a fan, I will be supporting the business from afar and wish Ian, David and the wider team continued success.” McDowall said: “Stonegate is an outstanding business, with a clear strategy, highly capable management team and hugely exciting future. I am passionate about pubs and the wider brewing sector and am looking forward to joining the team and further unlocking the clear potential of this great business.”

Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows total sector losses reduced to £4bn as industry slowly rebuilds: The next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows sector companies have reduced their collective losses to £4bn – down from £5.4bn in October, as the industry slowly rebuilds. The Blue Book, produced in association with Mapal Group, will feature an additional 18 companies, taking the total to 656. They are turning over a collective £33.6bn. The Blue Book shows 354 sector companies reporting total profits of £2.1bn while total losses of £4.0bn are being reported by 302 companies. The next edition will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (11 November), at midday. 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 access to three other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database. 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 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.

JD Wetherspoon reports like-for-like sales slow, plans to dispose of further seven sites: JD Wetherspoon has reported like-for-like sales have slowed in the past few weeks but trading is “broadly in line with expectations”. The company said it is also planning to dispose of a further seven pubs that are close to existing sites and has fixed interest rates in respect of £400m of borrowings for three years. Like-for-like sales for the 14 weeks to 6 November 2022 were 9.6% higher than the same period last year and 0.4% higher than the 14 weeks ending 3 November 2019. For the first nine weeks of the financial year, sales were 1.5% above the same period in calendar-year 2019. For the last five weeks, sales were 1.1% lower than the same period in 2019. The company stated: “Costs, especially in respect of labour, food and repairs, were substantially higher. Trading has been broadly in line with expectations, although October has been a slightly slower month. In comparison with 2021, sales were up 10.1% for the first nine weeks and were up 8.9% for the last five weeks. The company has terminated most of its interest rate swaps, receiving £169.4m, after costs. The mark-to-market value of the interest rate swaps increased by approximately £120m from the end of the last financial year (31 July 2022) to mid-October. The company decided to realise the value of the swaps, as part of its plans to reduce debt over the next few financial years. As at 6 November 2022, the company’s net debt was £745m (£892m at 31 July 2022). The company has since fixed interest rates in respect of £400m of borrowings for three years to 31 October 2025 at 4.67%, excluding the banks’ margin. Interest costs for FY23 are expected to be approximately £10m higher, following the transactions noted above. The company has opened one pub during the period and sold five pubs. The sale of the five pubs gave rise to a cash inflow of £1.9m. In addition, the lease of a pub at Doncaster airport came to an end and reverted to the landlord. The company currently has a trading estate of 847 pubs. As previously indicated, the company has recently put 32 pubs on the market and intends to add a further seven pubs to the disposal list this week. Most of the pubs are in close proximity to existing Wetherspoon pubs.” Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “Sales have improved since the ending of restrictions in the early part of this calendar year and are considerably above the same period in the last financial year. The company reported a return to positive cash flow in FY22 and anticipates a positive cash flow in the current year. In my comments on the full year results released on 7 October 2022, I set out various threats to the hospitality industry and these continue to apply. Those caveats aside, in the absence of further lockdowns or restrictions, the company remains cautiously optimistic about future prospects.”

Fridays launches major marketing campaign: Hostmore, the parent company of Fridays’, 63rd+1st and Fridays and Go, has launched a major new marketing campaign for its Fridays brand, “Show your Stripes”. The company stated: “The new digital-first campaign reflects a key pillar of the company’s strategy which seeks to enhance marketing activity and broaden customer appeal, making its brands more relevant to the consumer. The ‘relevance’ pillar is delivered through the company’s focused efforts to elevate its brands and differentiate them in a competitive consumer environment. The ‘Show your Stripes’ campaign centres on inclusivity and liberation, encouraging guests to visit Fridays restaurants, be their most authentic selves and have the confidence to celebrate what makes them unique. It not only assigns refreshed meaning to the iconic Fridays stripes, marking a significant step forward in defining the brand’s new identity, but also heralds a renewed focus on the bar – a nod to Fridays’ roots. The campaign will be running until Christmas across YouTube, TikTok, social and digital.” Hostmore chief marketing officer Rhiannon Scarlett said: “Show Your Stripes brings new meaning to the Fridays iconic stripes that we all know and love, and it has been incredible to work with our team to create something that we really believe speaks to both our current and next generation of guests. We want everyone at Fridays to feel like they can show up as their true selves, and know that Fridays is a place where they can show their stripes – whatever they may be.” Chief executive Robert B Cook added: “We are working tirelessly to strengthen our brands and their relevance to the consumer, investing in a high-quality offering in food, drinks, and a unique celebratory experience, as demonstrated by this new campaign. In an environment where consumers are putting more thought into where they spend their money, we recognise the importance of elevating our positioning as an aspirational destination and are investing in enhancing our marketing efforts to achieve this.”

Companies ‘could need more support now than during covid’: Businesses may need even more support now than during the pandemic to deal with covid’s repercussions, post-Brexit regulatory changes and a bleak economic outlook, the president of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned. The Times reported as Baroness McGregor-Smith, who took over the presidency of the organisation in March 2020, hands over the reins to Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, the technology entrepreneur, she described the situation for companies today as “pretty scary”. She said the government should provide a “pathway” for businesses to encourage growth. “We need people to invest here,” she said. “We need an aspirational economy and we want to attract the next generation of entrepreneurs.” Technology, infrastructure, energy and the move to net zero were all areas where she saw a strong prospect of future prosperity. The BCC represents tens of thousands of businesses employing almost six million people. She said lockdowns later in the pandemic had caused “unnecessary” damage to the economy and should have been handled differently. The consequent scarring on businesses was greater than it should have been, she said, because companies had been forced to deal with a two-pronged disruption to trade from Brexit changes and covid. The former chief executive of Mitie, the outsourcing group, said: “We could see that many UK businesses only had cash flow that would last them four to six weeks, twelve weeks if they were lucky, but we had no sense of the scale of what was to come.” While she said business was grateful for the government’s financial backing, she felt the handling of the restrictions later in the pandemic had made the situation worse. “By the time we got to Omicron we were reaching breaking point,” she said. “We said repeatedly that all the evidence shows it is milder. The rules got so complicated at the end that we questioned how anyone could operate like this. Yes, there was support, but the debt that many businesses have as a result of this period continues to be a burden and means they have become more risk-averse and less willing to invest.” She emphasised how recent political upheaval had caused further pain to business, while Brexit was an issue that could take years to resolve.

Christmas poultry felled by UK’s worst-ever bird flu outbreak: The UK has lost 40% of its free-range turkey flock to bird flu and the resulting culls, leaving some high-end butchers without supplies and adding to pressures on the market over the key Christmas period. Poultry farmers are battling the country’s worst-ever avian influenza outbreak, which has proved lethal to birds traditionally eaten in the festive season, especially free-range flocks. English poultry owners have been required to keep flocks indoors since Monday (7 November) to combat further spread. Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, told the FT: “This strain is particularly virulent around turkeys, ducks and geese rather than chickens. It’s striking the Christmas birds and it is growing exponentially.” The current outbreak – which began in October 2021 but has proved more severe this year so far than last winter – has already claimed two-fifths of the 1.2 million to 1.4 million free-range turkeys raised annually, said Griffiths. Gressingham, one of the largest producers, said its entire goose flock across three farms had been wiped out. Some 2.3 million birds – including chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys – have been culled in the current bird flu season, according to official data, against 3.2 million in the whole 2021-22 season. While that is only a small proportion of the 20 million birds produced weekly in the UK, it has been weighted towards Christmas poultry. Griffiths said several medium-sized turkey farmers had decided to exit the industry permanently. Ministers are allowing turkey producers to freeze then thaw birds, selling them as fresh – a measure enabling them to slaughter birds sooner in an effort to outrun the virus. The UK produces about 11 million turkeys a year, two-thirds of which are for the Christmas period.

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