Trade News – May 2020

YOUNG’S ACQUISITIONS

In what appears to be a rather convoluted exercise, Young’s have acquired five freehold pubs from the Pearmain Pub Company. Pearmain created a new company, the Spring Pub Company, and transferred the five pubs in question to that company and then sold the company to Young’s. Pearmain continue as a pub company, operating three leasehold pubs. It is understood that Young’s will, for the foreseeable future, operate the Spring Pub Company as a separate entity. Its directors include Patrick Dardis, the chief executive of Young’s.

FULLER’S OPEN NEW PUB

Unfortunate timing; Fuller’s opened their latest pub a week before they were closed. It is called the Windjammer, part of the Royal Dock development. It features a split level interior, with a large downstairs bar and dining area and a multi-purpose space at mezzanine level.

It has ‘breath-taking’ views of the river and the Thames Barrier and the décor has nautical touches. I did note from the photos however that it has 15 keg fonts but just two handpumps. The full address is 25 Admiralty Avenue, Silvertown, E16 2PN.

J D WETHERSPOON

On 29 April, JDW caused something of a stir when it was announced that they were planning to reopen their pubs towards the end of June. The logic was that a lot of their pubs are larger than most and that many have outside areas where social distancing would be easier. Nothing more has however been said so it might be that they were testing the water. It is hard to imagine JDW failing as a company, especially as they have property assets worth over £1 billion, but they do need to make arrangements to get through the crisis. The Propel financial information website reported that JDW are looking to raise £141 million by means of a share offer. Interestingly, JDW’s forecast is that sales will be down 10% for the first month after reopening, then improving by 2% a month. JDW may also look for a Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan, which could be up to £50 million.

The pub opening programme has been put on hold until 2022 at least. Some 43,000 of their employees, about 99%, have been put on furlough. Tim Martin himself, John Hutson, the chief executive, and all of the non-executive directors have agreed to a 50% pay cut while other senior staff have agreed reductions from 38% to 42%. They have also made agreements about deferring rent payments with a number of their landlords. JDW have also deferred the payment of PAYE income tax, VAT and fruit machine duty, acknowledging the help from the Government here. They will not be paying a dividend. There were comments in the press about JDW not paying their suppliers. In fact, nearly all of their suppliers have been paid up to the end of March and extended payment terms have been negotiated with others.

‘SAVE PUB LIFE’ CAMPAIGN

When pubs were closed, AB InBev were quick off the mark with an interesting scheme to help with their cash flow by signing up a number of them to a scheme called ‘Save Pub Life’. Given that they do not own any pubs in Great Britain, I assume that the pubs involved were ones which they supplied, most likely with Budweiser. The premise is that customers purchase ‘gift cards’ valued at £20 from the scheme which immediately pays over the money to their nominated pub, along with a matched £20 donation from the scheme. When the pub reopens, the customer will be able to spend their £20 in their nominated pub. The gift vouchers were already being received by e-mail in late April, which shows both good faith and a certain amount of optimism. The website does however carry the message ‘If your pub doesn’t reopen, your gift card is still donated to them’. The website is https://savepublife.com/.

GRACE LAND PUB CO

Grace Land, a partner of the Bar Works company, added the Bethnal Green Tavern (formerly the Misty Moon) to their estate in March. They now have six pubs in London, including two each in Stoke Newington and Bethnal Green. They are also running a voucher scheme which gives an extra 50% to spend when the pubs reopen. See www.grace-land.co.uk/vouchers.

FOOD & FUEL PUT INTO ADMINISTRATION

The Restaurant Group (TRG), owners of the Frankie & Benny’s and Wagamama chains, also own two pub companies, Brunning and Price and Food & Fuel (F&F). TRG were already experiencing financial problems before the COVID-19 crisis, with debts amounting to almost £287 million reported in December. Consequently, at the end of March, they put F&F into administration, along with the Chiquito Mexican restaurant chain. F&F operate eleven pubs, all in London and all of which are leased. It will be interesting to see whether the administrators simply surrender the leases, leaving the freehold owners to find new tenants, or whether what remains of the leases are long enough to be sold in their own right. In April, TRG raised £57 million from a share issue to keep themselves afloat so the Brunning & Price pubs, some 70 of them spread across the country, should be safe.

Food & Fuel were taken over by TRG in August 2018. F&F had previously been involved in a joint enterprise with Enterprise Managed Investments Ltd to operate the ten strong Frontier Pubs chain. That arrangement ended with the TRG takeover so Frontier Pubs no longer had any connection with F&F when they were put into administration. Their former interest passed to a company called Pioneer Hospitality which shares a number of directors with Frontier Pubs.

Stop press: I have seen a report that TRG wish to buy five of  F&F’s pubs from the administrator. Their previous involvement gives them no rights over the pubs so they will have to pay the administrators a proper price. If it goes through, the pubs will, presumably, be added to TRG’s Brunning & Price chain.

MITCHELLS & BUTLER

In a statement released on 14 April and reported in the Morning Advertiser, M&B announced that 99% of its workforce had been furloughed. According to one of its own statements last year, they employ more than 46,000 people. It has also cut the basic pay of all of its employees, including board members, by between 60% and 80% depending on seniority. M&B have also had to make arrangements with its lenders. A spokesperson said, “It is possible that the forced closure of our sites, as required by the Government, could amount to a technical breach of our secured financing arrangements but, as a first step, we are announcing today that a temporary waiver until 15 May has now been granted to avoid this pending further discussions. Great uncertainty remains not only as to the extent of the current shutdown but also the profile of any reopening and recovery period back to normality.”

M&B had recently started to convert pubs back to its O’Neills format. Instances were noted in Ealing and Richmond.

MARSTON’S

On 14 May, Marston’s released a statement, again quoted in the Morning Advertiser, saying that it was negotiating an additional bank facility (overdraft to you and me) of £70 million to cover the coming six months. It had also agreed ‘waivers’ to delay scheduled repayments on loans and bonds that were falling due between now and March 2021. They, like a number of companies, are also getting assistance in the form of deferred tax payments and rent and rates relief, as well as help through the furlough scheme. These, together with continuing sales of beer to the off-trade, should, the statement said, “provide us with sufficient liquidity to meet our obligations beyond the end of the financial year even if pubs were closed until then.” There will be no dividend in 2020. Marston’s debt, as given in their trading statement for the year ended 28 September 2019 was £1.39 billion and chief executive Ralph Findlay said that reducing this debt was the company’s ‘principal focus’.

SHEPS WIN AWARD

Further to my mention of Shepherd Neame’s pub walks in the last edition, they have now won the VisitEngland ‘South East Welcome’ award for their visitor centre, which is housed in a beautifully restored medieval house on their historic brewery site in Faversham. I’m sure that the award is welcome but it is probably not the best time to win it. The 80 minute guided tour explains the company history, the brewing process and includes a visit to the Old Brewery Store where several historic vehicles are displayed alongside a recreated cooper’s workshop, vintage pub signs and a collection of hop picking memorabilia. There is, of course, some beer at the end. It could make a good day out once such things are possible again. In due course you can book online. I should mention that there is a charge for the tours.

OVER THE WATER – AND BACK

Iinclude this story as an example of the international drinks trade at work. Currently, Budweiser and Bud Light for the Irish market are produced by Guinness in Dublin who also handle the distribution. The C&C Group, best known for Magner’s cider, has however acquired the distribution rights from Guinness’s parent company Diageo. As a consequence, AB InBev are transferring the brewing to their sites in Magor, south Wales and Samlesbury, Lancashire, which already brew the products for the British market. While I can see the logic of consolidating production, it seems odd that, as the UK leaves the European Union, C&C create a new export market. Interestingly, as reported in the Irish Independent, Diageo said it did not anticipate any job losses in Dublin because they were increasing production of other lager brands, especially Hop House 13. C&C already distribute other AB InBev brands in Ireland, including Corona…

DOOMED!

Prior to ‘lockdown’, one of our regular correspondents called at one of his local pubs and noticed that both of their Doom Bar clips (regular and extra chilled) were turned round. On enquiring, just out of curiosity, why this was, he was told there had been a run on it because of a special offer. He was presented with a card which showed that if the customer had a pint of Doom Bar on six different days at the same venue they were entitled a seventh free. I wonder if this will reappear in due course…

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP…

The German discount supermarket chain, Lidl, has applied for a licence to have a pub and off-licence included in a new store that it is building in Dundonald, near Belfast. A spokesperson said, “The pub will help to drive footfall to the new store making it a destination for other missions, increasing frequency of visit.”

CORONA BEER

In early April, AB InBev’s Mexican subsidiary, Grupo Modelo, stopped brewing all of its brands, including Corona, at its eleven sites across the country. This was not however because of sales problems. The Mexican government declared a health emergency and ordered the suspension of non-essential activities which included brewing beer. The company have appealed to the government for an explanation as to why it does not regard beer as an ‘agro-industrial product’, given that agriculture and food production are considered to be essential.

REOPENING THE NATION’S PUBS – CAMRA SURVEY

One of the most important considerations in planning the reopening of our pubs is how and when people will feel comfortable going back to their local. On 11 May, CAMRA surveyed its members by e-mail to find out what members saw as the issues that may face the pub industry post-lockdown and identify Government measures required to support the industry over the coming months, particularly if limits are imposed on the number of customers allowed on the premise at any given time. This included whether people will be willing to go to pubs that have social distancing measures in place, which aspect of going to the pub they’ve missed the most during lockdown and whether they want to see locally-produced and independent real ales and ciders available in pubs when they re-open.

CAMRA’s chairman, Nik Antona, explained, “The COVID-19 crisis has been an unprecedented challenge for the beer and pubs industry. Whilst CAMRA has been working to make sure pubs get the support they need during coronavirus restrictions, we know lockdown won’t last forever, and pubs will still need our help when restrictions are lifted. When pubs re-open they will need support from customers more than ever before. That’s why we need to identify now how people feel about returning to their local, what impact social distancing measures will have on pub-going and what social aspects of pubs people are most looking forward to. This will help CAMRA to better represent beer and cider drinkers and pub-goers interests when detailed plans are being drawn up to re-open pubs and allow us to ensure pubs and their staff get the support they need to stay afloat in the months ahead.”

The survey, which was also open to non-members, closed on 18 May and I hope to have the results in time for our next edition.

THREE CHEERS!

South London pub company Three Cheers have teamed up with the Open Kitchens project, which is a not-for-profit organisation that helps feed the elderly and vulnerable in the community, as well as NHS staff. Three Cheers are reopening the kitchen at the Rosendale, West Dulwich, which will be run by their own staff who have volunteered their time free-of-charge. Their initial aim is to provide 1,200 meals which will cost around £2,220. If readers wish to contribute to this good cause, please go to Three Cheers’ Twitter feed.

FREE BEER FRIDAY!

The Bohemia in North Finchley, home of the London Brewing Co, is giving away free beer to take away every Friday between 4pm and 6pm, in return for a donation to the charity that they have chosen for that week. So far they have raised nearly £5,000 for charities such as the North London Hospice, Dimensions UK and BreadnButter. The charity being helped at the time of writing was the Listening Place, who provide face to face support to those who feel life is no longer worth living. Their services must be in great demand at the moment.

You simply turn up (adhering to the required social distancing measures and extra hygiene practices), choose from the beers available that afternoon, make your donation and you have fresh beer to enjoy at home over the weekend. You can find more details on their Facebook events page

BEER ON THE GO!

The Forest Road Brewing Company, based in Dalston, has launched a mobile beer service using their ‘Pint Mobile’, a converted Citroën Berlingo van. The van carries 150 pints of their three core beers plus cans and bottles and they cover the E2, E5, E8 and E9 postcodes. Owner Pete Brown, formerly of Camden Town Brewery, said, “We have all of these kegs that are still fresh and tasting great, so I thought if people can’t get to the kegs, let’s bring the kegs to them!” For full details and to book a slot whatsapp them on 07507 096 874, Forest Road’s tap room at 8 Netil Lane, is also still open as an off-licence. Unlike the similar venture in Belfast, FRB’s website confirms that the service is compliant with local licensing policies. FRB currently have their beer brewed under contract but were in the process of installing some newly acquired brewing equipment in a site in Walthamstow. Let’s hope that the current crisis hasn’t affected this too much.

GREENE KING TAKEAWAYS

GK have joined in the ‘beer at home’ market. As reported in the Evening Standard (14 May), starting on 22 May, 29 pubs in its Metropolitan Pub Company division (all in London) will be delivering beer and food using Deliveroo. Ten of them will additionally be offering a ‘click and collect’ service. A spokesman said that this would provide the company with a new revenue stream and means that some employees can return to work. As at 18 May, there was no information, such as a list of pubs, on their website. The 10 delivery and click & collect takeaway pubs are: Crabtree (Fulham), Anglesea Arms (South Kensington), Phoenix (Whitechapel), Victoria Inn (Peckham), North London Tavern (Kilburn), Maynard Arms (Crouch End), Mitre (Holland Park), Ram (Kingston-Upon-Thames), St Margarets (Twickenham), Wandle (Earlsfield).

Compiled by Tony Hedger