How British pub group Greene King is managing acute inflation


Heath Ball labored 98 hours in his north London pub final week. Some days he began at 7am and completed after midnight. And that was earlier than he attended to his two different pubs in east London and Sussex.

Over the three websites, Ball wants 11 extra employees however not one of the candidates have wished to work lengthy night shifts or weekends.

Paying them is one other matter. Ball presents above the minimal wage and employees obtain 100 per cent of suggestions — however that’s changing into more durable to fund as his power invoice has greater than doubled, the value of meat is up 20 per cent, butter by 34 per cent and Greene King, from whom he rents the Red Lion & Sun and buys his beer, has elevated costs 4.7 per cent to cowl its personal quickly rising prices.

“I actually think we are worse off than we were in Covid,” Ball mentioned. “We still have the hangover and the costs and everything is so expensive now.”

Ball’s expertise is shared by publicans up and down the UK as they battle rising prices, an absence of prepared employees and unsteady buyer demand. Greene King, the 223-year-old pub firm and brewer, epitomises the notably unstable challenges build up for the hospitality trade simply because it hoped for a triumphant restoration from the coronavirus pandemic.

Greene King owns round 1,000 tenanted pubs which are “tied” to the corporate’s beers. The group has one other 1,600 pubs managed by firm staff, making it one of many UK’s largest pub teams. It employs 39,000 folks, together with at its two breweries and three distribution centres that ship off its beers to bars and supermarkets in 44 international locations world wide.

Overall it’s a enterprise that’s acutely uncovered to inflation, which economists forecast might attain double digits this yr.

You are seeing a snapshot of an interactive graphic. This is most certainly because of being offline or JavaScript being disabled in your browser.

From electrical energy to components, prices are hovering

The firm’s important Bury St Edmunds brewery has stood on the identical web site for the reason that Greene and King breweries, which benefited from the Suffolk city’s nicely water, merged in 1887.

It makes use of 26mn kilowatt hours in power a yr — round 1,770 instances the typical annual UK family consumption — because it runs malt by means of “mash tuns” and milling machines, a few of which have been on web site for greater than 80 years. Malt comes from simply over a mile down the highway however power value will increase drove its provider so as to add a surcharge this yr “with very little notice”, mentioned Matt Starbuck, managing director of Greene King’s brewing division.

“It’s easy to look at brewing and go, ‘you add some hops to some water and some malt’ but we’ve got logistics businesses, we’ve got engineering companies, we’ve got farmers, so the broader network of cost dependency is quite significant,” Starbuck added.

The price of glass bottles can also be up, whereas fuelling “dray” vehicles that transport barrels is dearer. The mixed pressures imply the general price of working the brewing division is 8 per cent to 10 per cent increased than final yr, though Greene King is just brewing round 80 per cent of its pre-Covid volumes.

Inside the pubs, prices are additionally rising. The value of components to make conventional dishes — white fish and batter for fish and chips, meat for burgers and pies — has skyrocketed. Chicken costs are up round 25 per cent, whereas hikes in sunflower oil costs ensuing from the battle in Ukraine have elevated the price of chips by a fifth.

At the Red Lion in Highgate, Ball mentioned normal 20 litre bottles of sunflower oil, which price £19.90 originally of the yr, had been billed at £58.68 a bottle final week. The pub makes use of round 150 litres each week.

The St Edmund Brewhouse
The St Edmund Brewhouse © Si Barber/FT

Wages are one other downside. Industry-wide labour shortages have compelled Greene King to extend pay for a lot of of its employees, notably pub employees, by excessive single digits and its emptiness fee is working above its historic common of 4 per cent to five per cent, it mentioned.

Greene King’s chief govt Nick Mackenzie mentioned the group had been fortunate to have the backing of one in every of Hong Kong’s largest property builders, CK Asset Holdings, which purchased it for £4.6bn in 2019.

But no matter deep-pocketed traders, price mitigation is “no doubt” a day-to-day problem. “The cost environment is changing daily. It is a significant issue to every business and I think will be with us for a little while,” added Mackenzie, who joined Greene King just below a yr earlier than the pandemic hit.

You are seeing a snapshot of an interactive graphic. This is most certainly because of being offline or JavaScript being disabled in your browser.

Keeping a lid on the value of a pint

It was a troublesome interval even earlier than inflation took off: revenues within the yr to January 2 improved 42 per cent to £1.3bn, in contrast with 2020, however that was nonetheless 40 per cent decrease than pre-pandemic ranges. Greene King reported an working revenue of £63.8mn, up from a £149.3mn loss in 2020.

Trading has improved up to now quarter, the corporate mentioned, with highest demand within the north east and London pubs nonetheless lagging.

Starbuck mentioned the corporate was in “active negotiations” with all suppliers to search out methods to chop prices, with trivia equivalent to switching from half-load deliveries as soon as per week to full deliveries as soon as each three weeks being thought-about.

In pubs, menus have been rigorously trimmed and bar operations rethought to enhance the effectivity of service. Staff have been placed on extra versatile rotas and adjustments have been made to hurry up resolution making when merchandise are unavailable or develop into too costly.

Ultimately, nonetheless, costs need to go up, Mackenzie warned.

A drive to get again to socialising since Covid restrictions lifted has prompted clients to spend extra, up to now permitting pub corporations to extend costs.

Steve Bryan, landlord of the Dog & Partridge pub
Steve Bryan, landlord of the Dog & Partridge pub © Si Barber/FT

Greene King has raised the value of its pints by a mean of 5p and meals by 6 per cent or 7 per cent however, like pay, the corporate varies its coverage by area and model.

Increase costs too far, and there’s a danger clients cease coming. “You have to make business decisions based on affordability but you have to balance that with the experiences you are giving,” Mackenzie mentioned.

There are additionally logistical concerns: menus have to be modified, tills reprogrammed.

Hard winter forward

Steve Bryan, who runs one in every of Greene King’s managed pubs in Bury, seemed round his half-full beer backyard on Thursday lunchtime final week and mentioned his employees had taken to thanking clients as they go away as a result of “it’s an expense now to come to the pub. It’s almost an extravagance for some people.”

The variety of clients shopping for drinks is up however meals orders are down in contrast with 2019, he mentioned, and postulates whether or not it’s as a result of clients are consuming out much less.

To enhance customized, Greene King’s pubs are placing on extra occasions and making an attempt to encourage enterprise always of day — even breakfast. Bryan is pondering up extra ingenious methods to have interaction clients, from promoting previous branded beer glasses for charity to sausage consuming contests.

The firm additionally faces the extra distinctive problem of rethinking its beers. A longtime conventional ale brewer, the transfer from shoppers in direction of premium lagers and craft beers has pushed it to launch some lighter keg beers this month.

“Overall [traditional ale] is in long-term decline and we have to acknowledge that,” Starbuck mentioned.

Cold lagers will likely be well-liked throughout summer season months when pubs do nicely from punters gathering of their gardens however Mackenzie acknowledge the corporate has “to keep a close eye on . . . discretionary spend over the next six to nine months”.

Ball fears a tough winter forward: “Everyone is happy in summer but what is winter going to look like? What are the costs of everything going to be then? Are people just going to stay home knuckle down over winter and try to conserve money? The scary thing is you don’t know what is going to happen next.”