17 January 2011

UK Pub and Restaurant Chains See December Trade Down 4.2%

Leading UK pub and restaurant operators saw combined like-for-like sales drop 4.2% in December compared the same month last year as snow kept customers at home.

More robust trading over the holiday weeks at the end of the month helped to pull back some trade lost due to the severe weather that hit at the beginning of December, but were not enough to avoid an overall trading fall in the sector’s busiest trading period.

The figures come from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker – produced on a monthly basis by Peach Factory in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group. It monitors sales performance across 17 major pub and restaurant operators, including Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread, Pizza Hut, Punch Pub Co, Gondola and Tragus.

“Taken together, figures for the two weeks of Christmas and New Year were actually ahead of 2009 as customers were determined to make it out of their homes, with the week after Christmas and including New Year particularly strong,” said Peach Factory’s Peter Martin.

“However, operators were still unable to make up for the snow-induced sales losses earlier. The first three weeks of the five-week month had seen negative sales figures across the market, with the first week seeing a double-digit dip.

”Heavy snow in the busiest weeks of the year is bad news, and way more significant than for the weeks lost to snow in January 2010, which experienced a 5% sale drop, as January is always a quiet month,” Martin added.

Total sales, which include new openings, were down –3.4%. The December drop ends a year that had heartened the sector, with six consecutive months of positive same-store sales being recorded up to and including November.

Trevor Watson, a director at property agent Davis Coffer Lyons, part of the Coffer Group, said: “The results have been affected by some operators bringing in price increases early in order to counter the effect of the hike in VAT in January as well as major snow disruption over an unprecedented period in the key trading weeks of the year. Coffer Group, however, is currently experiencing the highest levels of agency demand for two years.”

Richard Hathaway, head of Travel, Leisure and Tourism at KPMG added: “These figures show that the sector’s leading operators had a decent festive season and clawed back some of the ground lost to the snow. But, just like retailers, we will probably see in due course that results across the sector for December, as with 2010 as a whole, were a mixed bag. The strongest brands and best operators continue to take market share in what remains a fragile consumer economy. Further pressures from the recent VAT increase and weak confidence will drive further differentiation in performance between the winners and losers.”

Jonathan Leinster, head of European leisure and tobacco research, at UBS Investment Bank, said that it is no surprise that poor weather had taken its toll in December, but added: “Given that the Index slowed considerably in November to +0.4%, weak trading in the important run-up to Christmas is particularly disappointing.

“Total year-on-year sales fell 3%, down from +5% a year ago. We believe that the listed pub companies are outperforming other contributors to the index, nonetheless we expect the trading updates that begin next week will be poor.”

Coffer Peach Business Tracker is powered by Demographix

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