17 April 2012

Eating Out Chains See Benefits of Warm March

Pub and restaurant groups saw a modest bounce-back in food and drink sales during March, after a shaky start to 2012. Collective like-for-like sales were up 1.9% on the same month last year, following negative figures for both January and February.

Total sales in March, which include the effect of new openings, were ahead 6.3% on last year. The figures come from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker*, the industry sales monitor for the UK pub and restaurant sector, which collects monthly performance data from 24 operating groups.

“The good weather will certainly have helped trading, particularly in the pub market, which performed more strongly than high street restaurants,” said Peter Martin of Peach Factory, the business intelligence specialist that produces the sector Tracker, in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group.

“The sector will be relieved to see some growth back in the system, after seeing like-for-like sales drop 2.1% in January and 3.7% in February. Luckily both are weak trading months, so seeing sales pick up in the run up to Easter will be welcome,” added Martin.

“March’s figures essentially put the sector back on an even keel. The informal eating and drinking-out market has remained fairly stable over the past two years in terms of like-for-like growth, and we continue to predict another essentially flat trading year,” Martin added. “However, these multiple chains have continued to increase total sales over the past year, as they expand their estates through new openings and gain market share, largely at the expense of independents.”

Month-on-month, March sales were up 31.3% on February, mainly reflecting the effect of comparing five weeks of trading in March against four in February.

David Coffer, Chairman of the Coffer Group, said: “These figures underline the very firm indication across the entire UK market that there is definitely a wind of change in terms of consumer mentality about eating and drinking out. As ever, London-centric businesses are definitely seeing dramatic increases of turnover leading up to the unique celebratory period of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games. There seems to be an increasing belief among operators that the Olympics will bring an excellent improvement in trade rather than aggravation.”

Richard Hathaway, KPMG’s Head of Travel, Leisure & Tourism, added: “The figures for March are encouraging, the warm weather throughout the month obviously inspired people to eat and drink out more which is reflected in the like-for-like sales growth.”

“We also saw meaningful total sales growth which shows that the sector’s stronger brands and operators continue to invest in new sites and are preparing for growth. Although trading remains challenging for the sector as a whole, the positive trends we saw in March may well continue in the months to come, with events like the Jubilee, the European football championships and the summer games likely to provide another boost to the sector.”

Jonathan Leinster, Head of UBS European Leisure Research, commented: “After a strong Christmas period in which most managed operators reported high single digit lfl sales, the drop off in sales growth has been marked and sustained. Because consensus estimates for 2012 did not increase following the strong Christmas period we believe that if lfl sales growth continues at +1-2% then current consensus estimates for the managed pub companies will be realised. However, were the lfl trend to revert to negative then consensus would likely prove optimistic.

“We believe consumers are still happy to allocate discretionary spend to eating and drinking out, and pub-restaurants and other low-cost food options are growing share within that market. The March 2012 UBS UK household cash flow indicates that UBS expects average household discretionary expenditure (ex-utilities, fuel and debt payments) to rise 4.6% in 2012. This is well above our lfl assumption but note that many of the managed houses are also building new sites.”

Coffer Peach Business Tracker is powered by Demographix