Amuse-bouches: The latest restaurant news bites

7th May, 2020

We round up the latest restaurant news from a third of on-trade bosses expecting to permanently close sites due to Covid-19, to burger delivery specialist Twisted London expanding its reach in the capital.

Covid-19 closures: According to new data, a third (32%) of on-trade operators in the UK expect to permanently close sites due to the coronavirus. The survey, conducted by consultancy firm CGA and tech company Fourth, polled 120 senior hospitality executives during the week beginning 20 April. After the Covid-19 pandemic has ended, they estimate that between 70% and 80% of current sites, including pubs, bars, restaurants, late-night venues and hotels, will remain operating, meaning the industry stands to lose between 20% and 30% of such outlets.

Corbin & King: Writing in the company newsletter, co-founder of restaurant group Corbin & King, Jeremy King, said that operating social distancing in a restaurant was “impossible and implausible”. He said that restaurants are “social hubs which depend on the conviviality of community” and said he would have “no interest” in going to a place where he would be sitting in isolation.

Tronc: As reported by Big Hospitality, industry figures including D&D London CEO Des Gunewardena, UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, Hawksmoor founder Will Beckett and chef Adam Handling, have signed a letter to the chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for the inclusion of tronc payments in the government’s job retention scheme. Written by WMT Troncmaster Services, the letter argued that the decision to exclude tronc (tips and service charges) means that furloughed staff can receive as little as 55% of their normal salary, rather than the 80% promised by the government. The letter has over 50 co-signatories from the industry.

Twisted London: Burger specialist Twisted London opened a new site at Tileyard in Kings Cross this week. Planned to launch later this year, the new site has been fast-tracked in an effort to deal with delivery demand. Until restrictions are lifted, the restaurant will be offering delivery only, but will also offer counter service, a first for the company, when the lockdown is eased. The delivery radius stretches 2.5 miles from the site, offering those based in Angel, Camden, Stoke Newington and Finsbury Park a chance to taste the full Twisted menu.

McDonald’s: Fast food giant McDonald’s has announced that it will open 15 outlets on 13 May after closing its sites due to lockdown. It said it would take the temperature of employees at the start of each shift, sites would be open for fewer hours with less staff and will offer a limited menus. TGI Fridays, Nando’s, Burger King and Pret a Manger have also announced re-openings.

What’s on this weekend

7th May, 2020

ITV announced last month it has canceled this year’s series of Love Island.

With a bit more time on her hands, presenter Laura Whitmore will be drinking vodka in her kitchen this evening (7 May).

No, not like that! Whitmore has partnered with Bacardi-owned Grey Goose on a virtual dinner party experience that will be streamed on the vodka brand’s Facebook Live.

To coincide with Cosmopolitan Day today, Whitmore will show guests how to create popular vodka-based cocktails including the Grey Goose Cosmopolitan, Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz, and Grey Goose Espresso Martini.

The Love Island host will share her top tips for hosting the ultimate virtual dinner party this weekend. From table scaping, cocktail making and everything in between.

When: 7 May 5pm-5:30pm BST

Where: Grey Goose Facebook Live

Pre-Covid business like ‘halcyon days’ says leading Spanish wine player

7th May, 2020

In an exclusive interview with db, Richard Cochrane, MD of Félix Solís UK, recorded the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns on his Spanish wine business, while describing last year’s pre-pandemic trading as “halcyon days”.

Richard Cochrane, managing director, Félix Solís UK

How has lockdown in the UK affected the sales of the Felix Solis portfolio?

“At the start of 2020 I never imagined we were embarking on a year that would make 2019 seem like halcyon days. Our UK customer base has faced the biggest and fastest changes I have ever seen. The on-trade channel switched off over night leaving 5,000 of our customers in this channel in a very difficult position. By contrast the our key off-trade customers have seen a short term sales spike as people stocked up for lockdown and spending patterns started to change.

I have been surprised by some of these changes, such as the 18% growth in sub 0.5% ABV wine range and the 43% growth in our sparkling brand Prospero, at a time when sparkling sales are feel the squeeze. Sales of our small formats have dropped 16% as people seem to prefer buying something bigger. As such our bag-in-box sales are up 37% and in some cases this has been limited by the speed of getting product onto the shelf. Our branded sales growth or 12.7% was a very welcome surprise as promotions were restricted across retail, including the additional 25%OFF6 mechanics seen during the same period a year ago. People appear to have turned to brands they know and trust, but also represent great value such as Vina Albali.

Thank goodness for the exceptional weather so far during lockdown, as we all try and adapt to these big changes. Given the sunny weather I was not surprised to see our Penasol Sangria jump 45.9% as people mixed fruit, ice and our Sangria. What I did not expect to see was the jump in our red wine sales of +13.7% and conversely a drop of -11.3% for rose. It was also interesting to see that more people are cooking from scratch stuck at home, partly for financial reasons, but also because many people have more time as the pace of life since lockdown has changed. As such we have seen our meal deal wine ranges slow down by 11%.”

Has the shift in channels affected the volume and value of your sales to the same extent?

“People appear to be spending less on wine overall. In part because they cannot visit their favourite pubs or restaurants and thus buy their wine at retail prices. But we are also not seeing people trade up when applying the spend they might have made in a restaurant. We don’t have the data yet, but anecdotally sub £7 wine sales seem to be the main focus of growth. For us we have seen growth across all the price points we operate in up to £8, with a strong performance at around £5.”

How have you responded to the lockdowns as a company?

“In the UK the team are all working from home and I work from the office, which remains open. Teams and Zoom have replaced normal meetings and travel. I do wonder about which of these changes might become part of the future working landscape.”

Félix Solís Ramos and Richard Cochrane

Meanwhile, director of international trade at Félix Solís Avantis in Spain, Félix Solís Ramos, added:

“We have had to adapt quickly to the new environment. Our company belongs to an “essential” Sector, so we have remained open with less resources. The problem has come when we have had to deal with increased business from our current retail clients with less resource, so working hours and extra time has increased dramatically to give the necessary service to the current retail clients, that in several countries have increased sales by more than 30% (Spain, UK, Holland..). Our philosophy has been to stay open and satisfy our customers demand as much as it has been possible. For example last two weeks we have been working 24/7 in all our plants to satisfy this increased demand.” 

And what will longer term physical distancing mean for you as a business in terms of sales and operations?

Félix Solís Ramos: “We have put in place a series of measures with our employees in all our wineries and offices that make sure that we will be able to continue business as normal, in spite of the requirements in terms of space.”

Top tips on pairing Burgundy with Chinese food

7th May, 2020

In Chinese fine dining restaurants, wine pairings have already become an emerging practice. You may wonder if it also works with home-cooked Chinese food. BIVB (Bourgogne Wine Board) shares its insight to inspire your next meal plan.

During the stay at home period, you may miss experience of dining in one of the top Cantonese restaurants in town. However, even when cooking more simple dishes at home, you can step up your game by pairing with the right wine. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

BIVB recommends some ‘Hidden Treasures’ of the Burgundy’s appellations, including Bourgogne and Mâcon plus geographical denomination wines. Equating to 16% of total production in Burgundy, with stricter specifications including more precise delineation and lower yields than Bourgogne or Mâcon without geographical denomination, “they offer an entry point into the unique terroirs of the famous region with incredible taste and price-quality ratio,” said Anne Moreau, president of the communication commission at the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB).

She added: “It highlights areas in the Bourgogne or Mâcon appellations with specific characteristics and narrows the wine down to a village name, such as Mâcon-Uchizy, Bourgogne Epineuil or Mâcon-Lugny, to name just a few; a distinct part of a region, such as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune; or even a Climat, such as Bourgogne La Chapelle Notre-Dame and Bourgogne Côte-Saint-Jacques.”

Listed below are a few wine pairing ideas with Guangdong’s regional cuisine:

Deep-fried crispy chicken with Mâcon-Cruzille, Cuvée 910, 2018, Domaine du Clos des Vignes du Maynes (HK$365 @ La Cabane)
The refreshing acidity can cut through the greasiness of the dish, and cherry and cranberry flavours complement chicken flavours like a plum sauce would.

Cantonese char siu with Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, 2018, JP Marchand (HK$268@The Wine Guild)
Tender inside but charred on the outside, the fresh blackcurrant flavours and minty aroma of the wine matches the sweetness of the roasted pork.

Steamed seasonal fish with Bourgogne Chitry, 2018, Domaine de Moor (HK$260@La Cabane)
The easy-drinking wine has a savoury mineral note, together with the lemony aroma, it enhances the umami flavour of the fish, which is cooked simply.

Pan-fried oyster omelette with Mâcon-Fuissé, Les Tâches, 2017, Domaine Pierre Vessigaud (HK$270@NATURAL)
The wine has a sharp citrus acidity that helps to balance the briny taste of baby oysters in the thin and crispy omelette.

Guangdong steamed pork spare ribs coated with glutinous rice with Mâcon-Lugny, Les Genièvres, 2017, Louis Latour (HK$164@SommTech)
It is a complex dish with savoury and sweet flavours; however the honey notes of the wine can match well with the ingredients, and the white floral aroma is ideal for steamed dishes.

“Bourgogne and Mâcon plus geographical denominations are a true gateway to Bourgogne terroir, with attractive quality to price ratio and ‘enjoyability’ whatever the occasion or meal. Often ready to drink from a young age, they marry with a wide range of diverse cuisines, and are also the perfect choice to enjoy at home with friends and family over a homely Cantonese style dinner,” Moreau concluded.

According to BIVB, Hong Kong retains its place as a high-value market for Bourgogne wines, with year-on-year exports increasing 5.9% in volume and 8% in value in 2018-2019.

Karuizawa whisky tops Sotheby’s HK’s largest online spirit sale

7th May, 2020

Despite the global economic slowdown, Sotheby’s Hong Kong achieved strong results in its latest and largest online spirit auction in the region, with Karuizawa claiming the top three lots of the sale.

Ending on 5 May, the two-week “Distilled: whisky, moutai and more” sale was the largest online spirit sale the auction house has held in Hong Kong. With an impressive sell-through rate of 94%, 124 lots were eventually sold. The sale has generated a total of HK$5,946,417 and welcomed active bidders from 13 countries, where 26% of them are new clients to Sotheby’s.

Unsurprisingly, Japanese ‘silent’ distillery Karuizawa topped the sale. The three most valuable lots were Karuizawa 52-Year-Old Cask #8852 Streams of Time 1965 (one bottle), Karuizawa 36 Views of Mount Fuji (30 Bottles) – both sold for HK$471,200 – and Karuizawa Aqua of Life 50-Year-Old 1968 (one bottle), which sold for HK$434,000.

As the Karuizawa distillery closed in 2011, we can expect the value of the bottles to increase over time due to the very limited existing stocks on the market. In March 2020, a Karuizawa 52-Year-Old Cask #5627 Zodiac Rat 1960 broke the record for the most valuable Japanese whisky ever sold when it achieved £363,000 at Sotheby’s in London.

Aside from this, independent bottlers also shone in the sale. 10 lots of rare whiskies produced by legendary bottler Silvano Samaroli were all sold. Silvano began his independent bottlings in earnest with the Samaroli Flowers series. These whiskies were carefully selected and the label designs were drawn by Silvano himself. The Coleburn Samaroli Flowers 12-Year-Old, which sold for HK$37,200, is one example of this inimitable series, and to increase its desirability, Coleburn itself is a closed distillery, so very few of its bottles exist.

Man arrested after bizarre wine tanker heist

7th May, 2020

A Californian man has been arrested after he climbed underneath a moving wine tanker in his underwear, unscrewed a valve, and proceeded to drink from the vessel.

As reported by the Turlock Journal, Modesto traffic police arrested Gabriel Moreno, 39, on 5 May following the incident on Highway 99.

In footage obtained by CBS Sacramento, a man can be be seen running after the tanker, pulling himself up onto the side of the vehicle before climbing underneath while it was moving.

The incident occurred shortly after noon when the driver of the tanker noticed a man in a car pulling to the left in an attempt to get his attention, according to California Highway Patrol spokesperson officer Thomas Olsen.

Thinking the man, later identified as Moreno, had spotted something wrong with the tanker, the driver pulled over in the hard shoulder. Moreno followed him and shortly afterwards got out of his car and ran towards the area between his lorry and the tank.

Alarmed by his behaviour, the driver started the engine and proceeded to rejoin the road. However, after his gauges recorded that he was losing wine, he was forced to pull over for a second time and discovered Moreno under the vehicle drinking the wine that was pouring out.

Moreno was charged with vandalism and driving on a suspended licence.

Cherokee Freight Lines, the owner of the tanker truck in question, told CBS that 1,000 gallons of red wine was lost during the incident.

Olsen told CBS: “I’ve listened to thousands and thousands of calls. This one’s up there in the top 10.

“This individual was able to release the wine from under the tanker, and he placed himself underneath the tanker in such a manner, the best way to describe it was like somebody doing snow angels.”

Alcohol is proving lifeline to ease lockdown woes

7th May, 2020

Alcohol is proving a luxurious lifeline to ease lockdown woes, but that doesn’t mean that the overall drinks market is on the rise, nor that consumption levels are becoming a threat to health.

While the lack of commute may allow lockdown drinkers to enjoy their first glass of wine, beer or spirits a little earlier in the day, it’s likely that the consumption is measured

Since the coronavirus lockdowns began, it’s been widely reported that sales of wines, beers and spirits have been booming in the retail sector, especially those businesses with direct delivery operations and e-commerce sites*.

And for those in the trade, it’s been heartening to see that alcoholic drinks have, for the most part, not lost their appeal during the pandemic; indeed, they have become essential mood-enhancers during the present particularly testing times.

However, it is unlikely that overall consumption levels have risen, and that the year-end figures for the drinks trade will show any growth in volume, while it’s expected that the numbers concerning turnover will have dropped.

Why? In terms of the volume of drinks sold, the market has experienced a spike in retail sales for two main reasons. One of course concerns the total shuttering of the hospitality sector in the UK, meaning that those who were regular drinkers in pubs and restaurants are now consuming that alcohol entirely at home, and buying it through drinks websites, specialists and supermarkets – and hence the sudden rise in demand through such channels.

The second factor, which served to exacerbate the surge in retail sales, is connected to stockpiling, itself due to a fear that the supply of drinks may run out, or that access to them may be curtailed for any number of reasons during the lockdown.

But such hoarding doesn’t necessarily point to increased consumption, and, if anything, the current trend of at-home drinking has precipitated a more measured and sensible approach to imbibing.

While the lack of a daily commute may allow lockdown drinkers to enjoy their first glass of wine, beer or spirits a little earlier in the day, it’s more likely that the consumption is gradual, and enjoyed with food.

Meanwhile, the temptation to drink quickly and heavily that comes with going out – be it to a pub or nightclub, as well as social gatherings such as parties and weddings – has gone away entirely for the time being.

And what about the drop off in total turnover? This is connected to the fact that the majority of sales in retailers are within the mainstream drinks sector, whatever the category.

In contrast, most of the upmarket drinks sales take place in the more luxurious environment of the on-premise, which is obviously not open at this time.

Then of course there’s the fact that the post-lockdown economic outlook is dire, with the Bank of England saying this morning that the UK economy is expected to shrink by 25% in the second quarter (with unemployment rising by 9%), representing an economic contraction not seen in 300 years.

Such uncertainly no doubt explains a reduction in household spending of 30% in the UK since the lockdowns began.

Nevertheless, the economic recovery is forecast to be faster than it was following the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, and the Bank of England has said that the economy should bounce back with 21% growth in 2021.

But the message is this: the long term trend of a stagnant market for alcohol in the UK will persist, meaning that the very gradual decline in per capita consumption seen in the nation is not about to reverse. Rather, the spike in retail sales is simply compensating for a complete absence of consumption in the hospitality sector.

So, the suggestion by health lobby groups that the coronavirus lockdown is turning the Brits into a nation of alcoholics is not backed up by the total market figures.

However, the pandemic is highlighting the irrepressible appeal of great wines, beers and spirits as a mood-enhancing little luxury whether times are good or bad.

The temptation to drink quickly and heavily that comes with going out – be it to a pub or nightclub – as well as social gatherings such as parties and weddings has gone away entirely for the time-being

With this in mind, here’s what head of the WSTA, Miles Beale, said last month in an exclusive interview with db:

Firstly, speaking about the positives of the lockdowns for the drinks industry, he commented:

On the bright side, demand [for wine and spirits] may have shifted around but it’s still there, and it’s a sign that perhaps more than ever people appreciate the little luxuries and treats in life, and alcohol does well in that context. However, with the on-trade shut, they have to source it in a different way, which means that all of the demand is being satisfied down fewer channels.”

Commenting on the challenges, he said this, focusing on the hospitality sector: 

“For the on-trade, it looks tougher – and I’m sure it will return – but I can’t believe the same number of businesses will be available to us as consumers. Some won’t survive and the ones that do will be leaner. Consolidation [in the industry] will be closely connected to the on-trade. But it won’t sound the death knell for everything – or even half of everything – but businesses will have to survive long enough to be around to respond.”

Miles Beale, chief executive at Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA)

As for the overall trends for the trade, he remarked:  

“In terms of the overall picture [of alcoholic drinks sales in the UK], it may look like some off-trade businesses are doing very well and some on-trade businesses are dead in the water. 

In the off-trade, demand has definitely increased – particularly for online retailers and multiples/specialists – but it is temporary, the demand has shifted, and some have taken advantage of that better than others. 

Demand overall is not going to recede too much – but it is not growing either. Overall it is flat; it’s just that the channels have changed.”

Continuing to look ahead, he added:

“It is a marathon not a sprint, and things will get back to normal over time, although normal will look different, and compared to 12-24 months ago, people will start by going out a lot less, but because there will be fewer places to go, those businesses that survive might find they have the same number of covers.”

Finally, he opined:  

“Gosh we will all want to go out again when we can, and we are all missing social contact… really really missing it… and that may be something to hanker after, and it’s why the on-trade is not damaged beyond repair.  

At the moment, we are weathering the storm… but it’s difficult when we don’t know how hard it will rain or how long it will last.”

* Nielsen’s Weekly FMCG Update (for week ending 11 April) showed that, when compared with the same week in 2019, BWS sales in supermarkets were up 29%.

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US law firms advertise services for TWE shareholders’ legal battle

7th May, 2020

Never slow off the mark, American law firms are urging US investors to join their Australian counterparts in suing Treasury Wine Estates for allegedly misleading shareholders.

Attorneys from Los Angeles top New York are touting their services to launch a class action against the company. They believe Treasury may have violated US securities laws about disclosure of material facts to shareholders.

As the drinks business reported earlier this week, Australia’s biggest wine company has been served with two class actions in the past month. They both claim that Treasury’s management misled investors over the true state of the business for 18 months, causing them unwarranted losses.

In January Treasury cut its forecast growth in earnings for 2019-20 from an earlier estimate of between 15% and 20% to between 5% and 10%. The following day Treasury’s shares lost a quarter of their value.

The company said it had lowered its forecasts because of its weak performance in the US, where it had been hit by a wine surplus, challenging conditions and unexpected management changes.

The aggrieved shareholders claim that Treasury had problems in the Americas well before an earlier growth forecast was issued in the middle of February 2019.

In response, the company said: “Treasury Wine Estates has strong corporate governance practices and procedures in place that were used in our market update. TWE will vigorously defend any action.”

AB InBev sales fall 32% in April

7th May, 2020

The world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, saw its shipments fall 32% in April alone, after widespread bar and restaurant closures cut off one of its key routes to market.

(Photo: AB InBev)

Sinking sales “increased significantly toward the end of the quarter”, the company said in its financial results posted on 7 May. Total volumes fell by 9.3%. However, this figure would have only been 3.6% if its business in China, where lockdowns had been imposed from January, isn’t factored in.

Global revenue also declined by 5.8%. The company expects the impact of coronavirus lockdowns will be “materially worse” later in the year.

Volumes fell 32% in April, when AB InBev was forced to close its brewing facility in Mexico to adhere to the country’s own social distancing measures. Adjusted earnings fell 14%, slightly below analyst’s expectations.

The company was also affected by a number of countries that had banned the sale and production of alcohol, in markets such as Mexico, South Africa and Peru, where “brewery operations have been severely restricted.”

AB InBev said it will “continue to work with governments in this fast-changing environment and are doing our part in the fight against COVID-19. We look forward to resuming our operations when appropriate.”

The combined revenues of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona, declined by 11.0% globally and by 17.5% outside of their respective home markets.

AB InBev is the latest brewer to report a sharp decline in beer sales at the start of the year. Molson Coors’ beer sales fell close to 9% in the first three months of the year

Danish brewer Carlsberg’s sales fell by 7.4% in the first quarter of 2020, but CEO Cees t’Hart warned the worst is yet to come.

Chilean wine brand launches partnership with Spotify

7th May, 2020

Concha y Toro-owned Frontera has launched a wine and music pairing initiative with music streaming platform Spotify.

Spotify has curated playlists that have been tailored to wines within the Frontera range.

Users of the audio platform in the US can scan a code on Frontera bottles using the Spotify app, which will then open the customised playlist for the wine they’re drinking. The QR codes, designed to look like a sound wave, are printed on all 750ml and 1.5l bottles.

Each of Frontera’s wine styles has been paired with a different music genre, and each playlists boasts 40 songs.

A statement from the wine brand said the decision was in part inspired by research conducted by the University of Oxford, which found that changes in sounds can affect the taste of wine. In these times, it is also designed to appeal to those isolating and drinking at home due to lockdown laws.

Rodrigo Maturana, vice president of marketing of Frontera US, said: “Wine, like music, is an experience – something we take in at a sensory level. We’re excited to introduce wine and music fans alike to the elevated experience of savoring a glass of Frontera wine while listening to a perfectly matched set of songs curated by Spotify.”

Frontera, which has a portfolio of 14 wines, said it was the first wine brand to collaborate with Spotify on wine and music pairings.