As the hospitality sector comes to the end of another year filled with unprecedented challenges, MCA asked sector leaders to share their highs and lows of 2022 and hopes for the New Year, in a special series of articles this week. Part 1 includes Simon Emeny of Fuller’s, Kevin Gerogel of St Austell and Richard Ferrier of Brasserie Bar Co. 

Simon Emeny, chief executive at Fuller’s 

“It’s fair to say that 2022 has had a multitude of challenges, but we’ve made it through and we’ve remained a place of cheerful refuge for our customers. It is our job, as a sector, to remain positive and welcoming at all times. After all, where else is your primary goal at work to put a smile on someone else’s face?

“Looking forward to 2023, the thing that makes hospitality special, its basic essence, is that it’s fun. And we absolutely must make sure we stay that way. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the outside world – that’s for us to deal with at an executive level – but in our kitchens, among our team members, and more importantly for our customers, we need positive energy and that sense that working in hospitality is something that is much more special than just a job.

“Our people aren’t normal – they are extraordinary, and in 2023 I intend to celebrate that more than ever.”

Kevin Georgel, chief executive, St Austell Brewery

Highs and lows of 2022: “Our industry has continued to face significant headwinds throughout 2022. As a business, this has made our trading environment more challenging than ever as we continue our road to recovery following the pandemic.

“We’ve seen cost inflation across our entire supply chain. Our energy costs have more than doubled since 2019. Consumer confidence is low, and the cost of living means people’s disposable incomes are continuing to fall. In the South West, we’ve been hit particularly hard by the labour shortage this year, and visitor numbers were significantly lower than anticipated during our peak summer period.

“Despite these external factors, all of which are outside of our control, there have been many positives for us this year. We’ve strengthened our leadership team and invested in developing talent across our business, putting us in the best possible position to navigate the current challenges and build the foundations for long-term growth.

“We’ve also continued to invest in our pub estate, our beer brands, our wholesale business, our people, and our communities. Our full focus remains delivering on our long-term strategy – building a progressive and profitable business that’s fit for the future.

“We’re growing our pub estate across our West Country heartland, having acquired three new managed sites this year - the Wellington Hotel (Boscastle), The Blue Ball Inn (Lynmouth), and the Beaver Inn (Appledore). We’re also investing in ambitious refurbishments and transformational projects which will allow us to release the full potential of our pubs.

“Elevating our customer experience, all year round, will continue to be a core focus for us throughout 2023 and beyond – whether that customer is visiting one of our venues, drinking one of our beers, or ordering from us as a wholesale supplier.

“Growing our beer business, by building a brand portfolio that’s fit for the future, continues to be a key focus for us. Last month, we became a minority shareholder in Harbour Brewing in North Cornwall. This partnership will enable Harbour to strengthen its distribution in the South West through our Free Trade business and pub estate. It will also enhance our wholesale portfolio of third-party brands and give us the opportunity to participate in the growing modern craft category.

“We’re continuing to invest in the growth of our own beers too. We’re proud to say that Tribute and Proper Job have both been listed in the top ten cask ales nationwide, and they’re continuing to move up in the ranks. We’re also investing in the future of cask by introducing new brands. Anthem, the British pale ale we launched earlier this year, is seeing steady growth in the On Trade. Beyond cask – and as a result of marketing investment –we’re delighted to have increased sales of our flagship lager brand, korev by 40% this year (across the On and Off Trade).”

Hopes for 2023: “Inevitably, there will be bumps in the road in 2023, as we continue to navigate the current challenges. However, we remain confident and focused on releasing the full potential of our business.

“Our sector generates huge economic and social value. We have a key role to play in the ongoing national recovery. We are doing our bit, as outlined above, by investing across all aspects of our business. We now need the government to step forward and do their bit by committing to meaningful reform that creates a fairer and less punitive tax regime and delivers a lighter touch on unnecessary regulation.

“To enable us to continue to invest, create jobs, and support our communities, we need more clarity. Clarity around continued government support on the extortionate cost of energy, clarity on the planned increase in alcohol duty, and clarity as to when we will finally see the outdated business rates system overhauled.

“Pubs and breweries have stood at the heart of communities for centuries. Now, more than ever, we need this clarity and investment in our industry, which has the potential to play a big role in levelling up every single part of the UK.”

Richard Ferrier, managing director, Brasserie Bar Co

Highs and lows of 2022: “Unquestionably the highest point of 2022 for Brasserie Bar Co was completing the deal with Alchemy Partners in February. This has given us access to a large amount of capital which we are using to grow our pub group – particularly within the freehold space.

“We opened our first freehold pub with Alchemy in Ashley Cross near Poole in October and with Alchemy’s support, have been able to purchase five of our own pub freehold sites.

“The lowest points of 2022 have been the Ukraine war, political instability and the cost of living crisis. It is hard to imagine a more challenging set of circumstances for the sector with independent businesses suffering the most post the pandemic.

Feelings entering 2023: “Whilst we are concerned about the general consumer environment, our pipeline is strong and we intend to push on.

“Our focus is on affluent towns and guests in these places (whilst not immune) tend to have higher disposable incomes.

“We learnt a huge amount from the pandemic and have taken all those learnings and re-focused our strategy towards freeholds and now pubs with rooms for the first time.

”We plan to have 200 rooms in the business in the next 18 months which is a serious undertaking but should change the dynamic of the business considerably.”