Whisper it quietly, but the British public still wants to go out to eat and drink
More pertinently, drinks data from Peach partner CGA by NielsenIQ show consistently strong trading over the last three weeks of the year. Average weekly drinks sales against the same week in 2021 were reported as:
- Week to 17 December up 11%
- Week to Christmas Eve up 43%
- Week to New Year’s Eve up 26%
And if the rail strikes hadn’t hit trading in the week of 17 December, we might actually have seen Christmas trading close to 2019 sales levels. For the big days, Christmas Eve saw drink sales up 20% on last year, with Christmas Day up 17% and New Year’s Eve up 22% - which meant they were almost on a par with pre-Covid 2019 numbers. Read the full report here.
So something to celebrate - and the message to a nervous investment community, in particular, should be that consumer demand remains strong and hospitality is very much a relevant market.
Of course, these numbers are for managed groups, and it would be good to see the urban v suburban and rural splits, and especially how London fared against the rest of GB. But operators we’ve spoken to still think London, especially outer London, did better than many had expected.
The story in the independent sector might not be as cheery, or good enough to fill the gap between income and still rising food, energy and staffing costs. There is talk of hundreds of small operators ready to hand back their keys this month - and there is a growing concern that the bigger tenanted and leased pub companies will feel the repercussions of many of those individual traders calling time.
Over Covid, Britain lost just shy of 10,000 licensed premises, the majority independents - and it looks certain that independents will bear the brunt of future closures. Cost pressures are hitting everyone, but the truth is that operators with scale will have (in most cases) the financial strength and headroom to make it through. In fact, collectively, groups saw a net increase in site numbers this past year as opening programmes rolled-on. The rate may slow in the next few months, but the chains are still expanding.
All this means we are developing an asymmetric, some would say increasingly polarised, market.
The worry though is that pressure on the small guys will stifle the emergence of new entrepreneurs. Where will the next Pizza Pilgrims or Mowgli or Living Ventures or Loungers or even JD Wetherspoon come from – as all started like so many, as a single site?
The market will obviously be looking to the leading landlords, and even the big street food operators, the KERBs, Sessions, Boxparks and Digbeth Dining Clubs of this world, to continue to nurture and find homes for new talent. But there’s a challenge there for the wider market too.
Managed pub, bar and restaurant groups look to be best placed to navigate a way through the current challenges, but they will still need to up their games across the piece to make sure they attract those consumers still eager to go out for a good time - but that’s for another time.