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Wed 4th Jan 2023 - Update: Food inflation, Nightcap, competitive socialising consolidation, Chicken & Blues deal, Roxy Leisure
Inflation fear as food prices hit record highs: Food prices rose by a record 13.3% in December, increasing fears that inflation may not fall as sharply in 2023 as central bankers and economists hope. The war in Ukraine led to sustained rises in the cost of animal feed, fertiliser and energy that squeezed supplies as demand rose, according to the latest monthly shop prices index published by the British Retail Consortium and NielsenIQ. It is the highest level recorded since the index began in 2005. The biggest rise was in sugar, a result of delayed harvests worldwide and restrictions on export volumes from India. Lamb and pork prices also leapt over the festive period, with producers struggling to meet demand. Alcoholic drinks suffered the biggest slowdown in price growth of all food and drink items monitored by the BRC as retailers tried to clear stocks with Christmas discounts. A slowdown in non-food prices growth meant that overall shop price inflation was a fraction lower at 7.3%, down from the record 7.4% recorded in November. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, told The Times: “It was a challenging Christmas for many households across the UK. Not only did the cold snap force people to spend more on their energy bills, but also the price of many essential foods rose as reverberations from the war in Ukraine continued to keep high the cost of animal feed, fertiliser and energy. Non-food price rises eased as some retailers used discounting to shed excess stock built up during the disruptions to supply chains, meaning some customers were able to bag bargain gifts. The combined impact was that price increases overall plateaued, with the reduction in non-food inflation offsetting the higher food prices.”

Coming this month for Premium subscribers – the Who’s Who of UK Food & Beverage: Propel is to add a fifth major database to its Premium service this month. The Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage will be the first time full profiles of the UK’s top 700 food and beverage operators will be available in one place. The companies, listed in alphabetical order, will have their most recent results reported as well as broader information around Ebitda, plans and trading style available. The database has taken 16 months to pull together, merging Companies House information, interviews and other public information to provide an easy to reference and exhaustive guide to the sector. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “This invaluable guide simply hasn’t existed in the UK before. It’s a reference guide to the 700 largest operators in the UK. It will also be updated every month because on average 50 or so companies update each month of the year. So if you want to find out the most up-to-date information on a company, this is the database you will need on your desk at all times. It is also a wonderful complement to our Blue Book of Turnover and Profitability which is also updated each month and ranks these companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion. Together they provide the UK’s most detailed and insightful profile of absolute and relative performance.” 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. Premium subscribers are also to be given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. 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.

Nightcap confirms restructure of management team and begins operating as a “group”: Nightcap – the owner of The Cocktail Club, the Adventure Bar Group and the Barrio Familia group of bars – has confirmed a restructure of its management team, as it commences operating as a “group” rather than three individual companies. As previously revealed by Propel, under the restructure Dawn Donohoe become group managing director and will oversee the day-to-day management of the business across the group, while Jim Robertson becomes managing director of the company’s London estate of bars and Lizi Hills, formerly of Various Eateries, is its new group financial director. At the same time, Tom Kidd becomes group commercial director overseeing the sales, marketing, brand, procurement and property functions, while Emma Heaney is regional operations director, Alan Armstrong is group marketing director, and Lee Ramskill becomes head of events for the whole group. Amanda Ebbs continues as group sales director. Sarah Willingham, chief executive of Nightcap, said: “In the last 22 months Nightcap PLC has grown from a company with three employees to over 750. Starting with The London Cocktail Club we have since seen the acquisition of The Adventure Bar Group, Barrio Bars & Disrepute. As well as this, we’ve opened 13 new bars which wouldn’t have been possible without the hard-working efforts of everyone involved, a truly incredible achievement which makes us all so proud to be part of this amazing team. We ended the year with 36 bars in our estate and I am excited to see what 2023 has to bring us all.”

Harris – I believe there will be consolidation in the competitive socialising space: Toby Harris, chief executive of State of Play Hospitality, has said he believes there will be consolidation in the competitive socialising space and “probably in relatively short order”. While there hasn’t been any sign yet of consolidation in this sub-sector, Harris told The Times he believes it is logical that businesses like his may add to its portfolio. “I absolutely do believe that there will be [consolidation], and probably in relatively short order, as some founders and smaller businesses, for whatever reason, don’t want to go on that journey of scaling up and others have investor bases or the fundamentals to be able to acquire. I suspect us to be one of those,” he said. State of Play is pressing on with its expansion plans. Harris and his team are concentrating on taking Hijingo, its newest concept that comprises a “multi-sensory futuristic” take on bingo, to multiple international markets over the next few years, including the United States. The first venue opened in Broadgate Quarter near Shoreditch in 2021 and a second London venue is expected to follow. 

Chicken & Blues brand owner to expand after James & White Group deal: Aviary Hospitality, the company behind the Chicken & Blues and Flamingo Café Bar brands, is set for further expansion after acquiring the south coast-based James & White Group. Through the deal, Aviary, which was formed in 2020 by entrepreneurs Joshua Simons and Steve Crawford, will open a third regional location for Chicken & Blues in the heart of Christchurch, alongside a beach-side second home for its Miami-inspired neighbourhood café concept, Flamingo Café Bar, which debuted successfully in Bournemouth in 2021, and is now set to launch in Boscombe Spa. Simons said: “We’re delighted to have acquired such prominent locations, both of which have been home to successful restaurant operations for decades. We see these landmark sites as a generational opportunity, and the team couldn’t be more excited. On a personal note, myself and Steve are thrilled to be growing both brands in unison, and look forward to them starting to realise their potential in the months and years to come.” Chicken & Blues Christchurch is set to open in late February, with Flamingo Boscombe Spa following pre-summer. Over 50 jobs will be created, taking Aviary’s combined workforce to over 120.

No alcohol? No problem, as sales boom in UK: Britain has emerged as one of the most dynamic places for sales of low and no-alcohol drinks, with a sharp increase in new product launches and growth forecasts outstripping many other markets. The Times reports that according to data from IWSR, the drinks consultancy, overall sales volumes are split fairly evenly between non-alcoholic and low-alcohol products, although zero-alcohol sales have driven most of the expansion of the past five years. While the total market in the UK has grown at a compound annual rate of 9% since 2018, no-alcohol volumes jumped by 21%, well ahead of the 1% increase of the low-alcohol category. In the run-up to Christmas, Ocado reported a significant rise in sales of no and low-alcohol drinks. The online supermarket said that sales of Nozeco sparkling wine were up by 83% year-on-year and of alcohol-free cider up by 24% as more 18 to 34-year-olds turned to so-called no/low products for the holiday season. Susie Goldspink, at IWSR, said: “The main drivers for choosing no and low-alcohol drinks remain moderation and the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.” The drinks consultancy is predicting compound annual growth in volumes of 7% from 2022 to 2026, with low-alcohol growing at 3% and no-alcohol achieving growth of 10%. IWSR said that no-alcohol volumes had overtaken low-alcohol last year, with most of the product innovation and consumer demand focused on the zero-alcohol category.

Roxy Leisure confirms second Birmingham opening: Roxy Leisure, the operator of the Roxy Lanes and Roxy Ballroom concepts, has confirmed plans to open its second site in Birmingham. The new Roxy Ball Room, which will open next month, will be located adjacent to Victoria Square, home to Birmingham’s Town Hall, Museum and Art Gallery, Council House, and the city’s yearly Frankfurt Christmas Market. The new site will be positioned in 1 Victoria Square, which has stood empty since Kong decided not to reopen after the pandemic. At the same time, the business will rebrand its site in the city’s Digbeth area to a Roxy Lanes, to mark the shift in focus from ball games to bowling. Birmingham will be the fourth city in the brand’s portfolio to receive a second site following Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester. The Roxy Leisure group currently has 13 sites across the UK, following their most recent launches in Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Edinburgh. The second Birmingham site will be their first launch of 2023, followed by Cardiff in March. Roxy Leisure commercial manager Joel Mitchell, said: “Birmingham is a creative, exciting, and thriving city. Thanks to the success of our first Birmingham venue, we’re now excited to announce that we will be expanding our Birmingham offering with a second site in the heart of the city centre. Of course, guests can still expect our signature ‘booze and ball games’ ethos that we know they have come to love!” Propel revealed last month that the team behind Roxy Leisure is to launch a new family bowling format called King Pins, in Manchester. The Foresight-backed business will launch the new format at Trafford Palazzo, within Trafford City, later this spring.

New pan-Asian concept Gura Gura launches in Covent Garden: Longmartin Properties Ltd, a joint venture between Shaftesbury and the Mercers’ Company, has announced that Gura Gura, a brand-new pan-Asian concept, has launched its debut restaurant within The Yards, Covent Garden. Located at 19 Slingsby Place, the 2,900 sq ft UK debut site offers a modern menu with flavours from across Asia, spotlighting Japanese, Thai and Chinese elements, developed by experienced restauranteur, Gobind Chona. The 110-cover restaurant spans two floors, and includes a sweeping bar and a dedicated sushi counter, accessible via a bespoke wine tunnel, on the second floor. Chona said: “I am delighted to be launching my debut UK restaurant Gura Gura within The Yards, one of London’s best dining hubs. It has been brilliant to see our vision of a fun and accessible Pan-Asian eatery come to life and I am thankful for all the support from the Longmartin Properties’ teams.”

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