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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 3rd Mar 2023 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Counter culture, how to ensure we’re striving for equity and inclusion for women and ethnic minorities within our businesses, is wet-led the way ahead, the return to the local
Authors: Mark Wingett, Louisa Davies, Glynn Davis, Phil Mellows

Counter culture by Mark Wingett 

One of the UK’s most successful foodservice businesses put out a press release recently, but I wonder how many of you know who I am talking about or the story behind it? Sushi Daily, Europe’s biggest fresh sushi kiosk business, announced the launch of a loyalty trial for what it has called a “unique omnichannel programme”. The brand is the main growth driver of the KellyDeli business, which was founded just over 12 years ago by Kelly Choi after she admitted she had hit “rock-bottom”, and now has become a circa €465m-turnover company, with more than 1,000 sushi counters in 12 countries. While the fight for space on the high street, in shopping schemes, roadsides and transports hubs remains fierce, the battle of the supermarket sushi counters is equally competitive and shows no sign of easing up. 
Choi, who was brought up in a South Korean village, was denied access to high school through lack of family funds. Instead, she moved to Seoul and funded her own tuition at night school. She later moved to Japan to immerse herself in Japanese culture – and sushi in particular. She saw her first business dreams crushed by the 2007-08 financial crisis. Her then Paris-based communications venture collapsed with mounting debts and, tormented by thoughts of having let her family down, she told The Times in 2020 that she found herself staring into the River Seine and thinking: “Perhaps it would be easier just to die.” Choi then had a revelation: she could not kill herself “because it would kill my mother” – a woman who had lost two children to malnutrition and lack of healthcare during the years of desperate poverty that followed the Korean War. Two years after her epiphany by the Seine, Choi made her first approach to a supermarket chain. Ten months later, the first Sushi Daily kiosk opened inside the Lyons branch of the French supermarket chain Carrefour. It was an instant hit, beating sales targets from week one and ready to be rolled out as a brand through France, and then Europe.
Today, Sushi Daily sells freshly handmade sushi in convenient locations and travel hubs across the globe, including major supermarkets such as Waitrose and Asda. It has 140 counters/kiosks with its supermarket partners here in the UK, and the company has more than 1,000 kiosks in 40 different retailers across Europe, Mexico and the UAE. According to Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, KellyDeli UK’s turnover rose by 138% to £56,426,035 (2020: £38.046,051) in the year to December 2021. Profit before tax was £2,487,852 (2020: £896,543) on the back of further openings. Parent company Jimiki, of which Choi owns 60%, reported its best international year in 2021, with sales up 27% to €446m euros (2020: €335m), with like-for-like sales up 12%. Its top three markets were France, Italy and the UK, which performed ahead of expectations at 31% sales growth versus 2020. The company made a pre-tax profit of €31,417,078 (2020: €23,248,530). During that same year, it launched in Mexico – at that time, its first region outside of Europe. 
On top of Sushi Daily, it also operates a number of other kiosk-based brands, including “one-stop Asian food counters” called Sticks, Bowls and Rolls in selected Asda stores across the UK. Earlier this year, Sushi Daily was made available via Deliveroo in selected Waitrose stores as part of a new trial. Up to 20 handmade sushi products were made available through the Deliveroo app, with six Waitrose stores – in Brighton, Barnet, Canary Wharf, Clerkenwell, Mill Hill and Stratford City – taking part in the trial. After exploring restaurant partnerships, acquisitions and own brands, partnering with sushi specialists offers retailers an easy, credibly branded, premium positioned solution that brings theatre into stores, creating another reason for shoppers to visit.
And of course, Sushi Daily is not alone. The Hana Group-owned Sushi Gourmet continues to grow through its link up with Sainsbury’s, while the evolution of YO! into the Snowfox Group, from restaurant operator to a multi-brand, multi-format, multi-cuisine international business, has been underpinned by its sushi kiosk business. It operates under brands such as YO!, Bento and Taiko, and by the summer of last year, operated circa 2,200 such sites with retail partners. 
The group reported record sales of £197,263,000 in the year ending 28 November 2021 (2020: £134,289,000), up 47% on 2020, with group adjusted Ebitda doubling to £34,448,000 in the period, up from £17,073,000 the previous year. It sold 60 million trays of sushi in the first seven months of 2022 and now operates almost 6,000 distribution points across the US, Canada and UK, with 75% of its group system sales now coming from North America. In that seven-month period, the group’s franchised kiosks (US and Canada) recorded like-for-like sales growth of 33%, while its owned corporate kiosks (UK and Canada) saw like-for-like sales increase 25%. It also added new partnerships with Tesco, Co-op and WHSmith during the period and built on its relationships with the likes of Asda, Costco, and David Lloyd.
The Richard Hodgson-led Snowfox plans to double its estate of kiosks in UK supermarkets this year, with the opening of another 200 sites. Christian Haas, managing director UK & Ireland at YO!, told Propel that the business opened nearly 200 sites in 2022 with Asda and Tesco. He said: “We will open at least that number again in 2023. I was with Asda recently, and it is passionate about continuing to divest unproductive space that it has in its stores to us. We’ve also been approached by retail brands outside of the markets that we’re currently in to see whether we could set something up in those geographies as well. So that core competence we’re building, we will be taking forward with those new partnerships.” Like KellyDeli, Snowfox has already moved beyond sushi and has a significant business in Korean, Thai and Malaysian food. “But it’s even more than that,” says Haas. “So yes, we are a pan-Asian food specialist business and we’re really proud of that, but what we’re also becoming is specialists in operating retail kiosks.”
In terms of franchising, it began a trial last summer with a Panku kiosk in Asda in Peterborough. Haas said: “In the UK, we are 100% corporate run. Our Canadian colleagues are a mixture of both, and we firmly believe we have a role in society to give people the opportunity to run their own business. We currently have a trial underway in Peterborough, and it is clear to me the operator there has a level of ownership and commitment to that business, which is so difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate with corporate run operations. I think this move might ultimately unlock probably the biggest shift in the performance of a lot of the things we’re doing on a like-for-like basis and just might offset some of the potential for volume decline the cost-of-living crisis might drive.” 
That drive to explore further avenues has led to Snowfox rolling out its new Snowfruit franchise – providing freshly cut fruit to customers – to more than 450 stores across 12 states in the US. The company said: “As customers are increasingly seeking out fresh and convenient options of the highest quality, Snowfruit has been successful in these initial stages. The business has grown quickly and is now operating in more than 450 stores in 12 different states in the USA. There is an exciting roll out plan for 2023, while a trial in vegetables has also been completed, and to be added to the offer in the coming months.” 
Snowfox says it continues to seek new restaurant sites for YO! – it opened two last year in Middlebrook, Bolton, and one in Speke – with an opening at Luton airport believed to be on the cards. However, KellyDeli’s attempt at a standalone Sushi Daily site in London’s New Oxford Street has since been ended. A small misstep in what has been an impressive growth story for the business. Its focus for now, and for Snowfox and the Hana Group, is to keep providing theatre and personal service in environments not renowned for either. And, most importantly, continue to attract the shoppers most prized by supermarket owners (read consumers and hospitality business owners) – discerning, aspirational customers with money to spend.
Mark Wingett is Propel group editor. This piece first appeared in Propel Premium.

How to ensure we’re striving for equity and inclusion for women and ethnic minorities within our businesses by Louisa Davies

The hospitality industry, like many other sectors, has faced challenges when it comes to promoting equity, equality and inclusion. This sector is very well known for its diverse workforce in many entry-level roles, which is one of the many reasons people flock to join the industry. 
I am co-founder of SISU, an equality, equity, inclusion and well-being consultancy. Passion is at the heart of SISU and everything we do. At SISU, we are continuously moving forward, innovating and improving. We use our drive and commitment to energise, engage and inspire others. We believe in people and the power of people. We have collaborated with many hospitality brands, and the common theme seems that the most affected groups are women and ethnic minorities.
Despite progress in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done to create a fair system for each individual within the industry, and in this piece, we will explore the challenges faced by women and ethnic minorities in the hospitality sector and some simple resolutions for rectifying these challenges.
Challenges faced by women in the hospitality sector
The truth is, the hospitality sector has traditionally been dominated by men, with women often being relegated to lower-paying roles. Women frequently struggle to break through the glass ceiling due to systemic barriers such as gender stereotypes, implicit bias and a lack of networking opportunities.
One of the main challenges faced by women in the sector is the lack of female representation across leadership roles. Although the conversation is present, there is still a stark divide, despite some of the misleading stats provided. Research by Korn Ferry reveals that women make up 25.5% of executive committee members across the hospitality, travel and leisure sector. While first impressions may have you considering this good, it masks a more systemic issue given many of these women reside in the HR function, rather than the wider business leadership roles. This lack of representation can lead to a lack of role models and mentors for women looking to progress in their careers.
Furthermore, another prominent challenge faced by women in the sector is sexual harassment and discrimination. According to the National Restaurant Association, 60% of women in the restaurant industry have experienced sexual harassment, and in another survey by Unite the Union, 47% said they had directly experienced sexual harassment, and 62% said they had witnessed it. These are alarming statistics that highlight the need for a culture shift within the industry.
Challenges faced by ethnic minorities in the hospitality sector
Similarly, ethnic minorities also face significant challenges in the hospitality sector. Discrimination and bias can make it difficult for ethnic minorities to break through the glass ceiling and progress in their careers. According to a recent report, just 1.5% of executive positions in the industry are held by people of colour.

Many minorities also face cultural barriers when working in the sector. For example, language barriers can make it difficult for employees to communicate with customers and colleagues alike, leading to a lack of job satisfaction and, potentially, lower earnings.
Resolutions for creating a fair system for each individual
Creating a fair system for each individual in the hospitality sector requires a concerted effort from industry leaders and policymakers. Here are some resolutions for addressing some challenges faced by women and ethnic minorities in the hospitality sector:
1. Promoting equity, equality and inclusion
Hospitality companies need to prioritise equity and inclusion by creating a culture that is welcoming to all individuals, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or background. This means implementing policies that promote diversity, such as unconscious bias training, mentorship programmes and recruitment strategies that focus on promoting an inclusive workplace, especially for support centre roles and individualised progression pathways.

2. Encouraging leadership opportunities 
Hospitality companies need to encourage leadership opportunities for women and ethnic minorities by creating programmes that help them develop the skills they need to succeed in leadership roles. This includes mentorship programmes, leadership training and support networks that help women and ethnic minorities build the confidence and skills they need to succeed.

3. Addressing sexual harassment and discrimination 
The hospitality industry needs to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and discrimination. This means implementing policies that prevent and address sexual harassment and discrimination immediately, as well as providing support to those who have experienced or witnessed it. Ensuring the re-education of teams on acceptable behaviour at work is crucial. Times have changed.

4. Addressing cultural barriers
Hospitality companies need to address cultural barriers by providing language training and support to employees who may be struggling with language barriers. This includes offering language classes or providing translation services to help employees communicate effectively with customers and colleagues.
Creating a fair system for each individual in the sector requires a commitment from industry leaders and policymakers to promote equity, equality and inclusion. Commitment means consistency. This work takes time and investment, but the return on investment is substantial. We do this work because it’s the right thing to do. After all, no one should head to their place of work with dread at the feeling of being excluded, harassed or unheard. 
SISU is here to continue these conversations and collaborate with you on your equity, equality and inclusion journey by providing specific guidance and education. We would love to hear from you. Stay brave, stay curious and stay honest.
Louisa Davies is co-founder of SISU, an equality, equity, inclusion and well-being consultancy

Is wet-led the way ahead by Glynn Davis

Having walked across muddy fields for the previous hour from Foxton train station, it was very welcoming to push open the shiny red door of the Queen’s Head within the village of Newton in Cambridgeshire at 5pm – official evening opening time. Unlike many pubs, it chooses to stick with the old opening times – dating from before The Licensing Act 1988 ushered in the ability to trade all day – which involves a mid-afternoon closure.
This is one of many things that have been retained at the pub, along with its landlords. They have all held incredibly long tenures, with the result being it has had only 18 such leaders since 1729. From 1962, it has been in the very capable hands of the Short family, which not only saved it from demolition but have also delivered beer of such quality (as well as a warm welcome) that it has kept the pub in the Good Beer Guide for every one of its 50 editions.
This is no mean feat as this exclusive club has only four other members – London’s The Star Tavern and Buckingham Arms; the Roscoe Head in Liverpool; and the Square & Compass in Dorset. The decline in membership numbers over recent years has been marked. The 25th anniversary edition in 1998 contained 22 pubs that had been in every issue, while in the 2008 version, this had fallen to ten pubs. Today, we have half this number.
As well as having consistency of ownership, these five pubs also have another common factor – they are still very much drink-focused. Food plays a role, but it remains a secondary factor. It is interesting to consider that if the Queen’s Head had succumbed to the ongoing pressures of offering a comprehensive food menu, then maybe it would have fallen out of the Good Beer Guide or suffered a fate equal to death. I certainly question whether it would have served me pints as good as those I enjoyed on my visit. The pale ale from nearby XT Brewing Co, drawn straight from the barrel (there are no pumps and pipes complicating things here), was good enough to stop me in my tracks and had me almost immediately ordering another pint.
Current landlord Rob Short described how costly and complicated it would be for him to install a fully-fledged kitchen and the headache of hiring (and retaining) chefs. Instead of a complicated cooked menu, he has a concise evening offering of toast and dripping, sausage rolls, roast potatoes, cheeseboard, ploughman’s, brown soup, pies and veg and ice cream. Cleverly, he uses some of the same ingredients across these dishes. The big food draw at lunchtime is a simple choice of five sandwiches, using quality local ingredients, which he says are incredibly popular.
The current economic landscape of the rising price of ingredients, wage costs and utility bills confirms the sensible strategic thinking of Short, and his family members before him, in choosing to keep the food offer incredibly straightforward and not be tempted to venture into gastropub territory. Far from being the savior of the pub, food has, in some cases, been the downfall when the economics haven’t stacked up in the current climate. The food-focused Five Bells in Devon and The Curlew in Bodiam are among the victims of the tough post-covid-19 inflationary environment.
Against this backdrop, various pub operators are considering their food stance and recognising that we might be embarking on a period when the wet-led pub, with a supportive food proposition, might have the upper hand in certain locations, and for smaller properties without the space for a kitchen and enough covers to justify the investment or aggravation involved in hitching their wagon to a full-on food offer.
The likes of the Ypres Castle Inn in Rye have adapted to the circumstances, and it now focuses on easy-to-prep scotch eggs and cheeseboards, whereas pre-covid-19, it was very much onboard with the mindset that a food menu packed with full-cooked meals was a necessity for the survival and success of the pub. It was a similar realisation at The Three Cups in Bedford, which now allows customers to order in takeaway meals from local restaurants to enjoy with their draught beer from the bar.
Despite the reluctance of its owners to radically change the model at the Queen’s Head, this is certainly not a pub that is stuck in the past. Each Wednesday evening between 5pm and 8pm, it has a rolling programme of street food operators who pitch up with their unique offerings which encompass a varied range of cuisines from around the world. Working out a food model that works well for the characteristics of the individual pub within its specific location has never been more important for ensuring the longevity of these much-valued businesses.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The return to the local by Phil Mellows

The clue is in the name. I’m not sure how long “local” has been a synonym for “pub”, but the fact that arguably the best history of the public house, by Paul Jennings, is called The Local, suggests it gets to the essence of the institution. So too does the fact that Maurice Gorham’s ground-breaking attempt, in 1939, to articulate what was important about pubs takes the same title.

Using a pub more than a short walk from your home may, indeed, be a relatively modern phenomenon, and perhaps not deeply ingrained. This was recently exposed, of course, by the shift ofy city centre office staff to working from home. Necessitated by the pandemic, it seems to have stuck. People are, at any rate, going into the office a lot less.

This is a concern for hospitality operators, generally larger companies, that have built their model on what were busy central locations, a concern fuelled by the impact of the recent rail strikes that gave people another reason to stay at home. It’s likely, though they may be too diplomatic to shout about it, that a lot of pubs, restaurants and coffee shops based in residential neighbourhoods have done quite well out of this, perhaps feeling that, for once, events have turned in their direction.

Indeed, the various lockdowns brought a greater appreciation of those local businesses that provided a sense of social connection, not to mention beer, through those strange days of isolation. People came to feel they should support those closest. And this feeling too seems to have stuck.

At least, it’s stuck with me. I’ve always liked to roam about, trying different pubs. I still do that, it’s my job. But off duty, although I live only a 15-minute walk to the centre of town, I’ve found myself using two pubs much more than any others. One is a bit more than 100 yards away, the other a bit less than 200 yards. I’m using yards here rather than metres not because I’m old, which I am, but to compare it with some fascinating stats from my favourite book, Mass Observation’s The Pub and the People. 

Its detailed analysis of pub-going dates from 1936, but as far as I know, it’s not been repeated. It finds that regulars are reluctant to walk more than about 300 yards to the pub. The only exceptions are people who’ve recently moved out of the area, and those meeting friends and lovers.

Have we changed so much? Of course, there were more pubs in those days. But even in 1936, the researchers worried that magistrates were refusing to grant licences on new housing developments, depriving people of a local. That trend accelerated after the Second World War, and I’ve often wondered whether the problem with pubs is not that there are too many of them, but they’re not in the right places. Food-led new-builds on the outskirts of towns – by Marston’s, for instance – seem to recognise this, but they don’t quite fill the gap.

In the 500-year history of the pub as we know it, destination outlets (not counting inns for travellers) are an extremely recent idea. The heart of pubness lies in it being “the local” in the strictest sense, and there’s still a demand. Micropubs have seized on the opportunity of opening in secondary locations outside of town centres. They are replacing traditional pubs that have closed because there isn’t enough custom to support such a large and complex operation with high overheads.

Micropubs, though, are small and light and fit for purpose. A rough count from the Micropub Magazine’s listing suggests numbers are nearing 900 across England and Wales, equivalent to a large pubco – though not in terms of trading area, obviously. There could be many more, but they’re excluded from many urban areas by high rents.

It’s worth looking at their offer. Originally, micropubs targeted older male drinkers who’d lost their local. So, they sold cask ale and little else. But increasingly they’ve diversified, embracing the gin boom, adding craft beer taps and even cooking hot snacks, attracting a wide variety of customers from their immediate neighbourhood.

Beer still tends to be at the core of it, but the inscription “NFL” (No Flipping Lager) on the wall of the first micropub, the Butchers Arms in Herne, no longer applies. Success is not automatic. To survive, they have to be good at what they do, and that, these days, is true of any local. My two pubs both serve great beer, and one has an excellent Caribbean kitchen. Why do I need to go further?
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

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