Wetherspoon total sales down, as Tim Martin blames government’s ‘draconian restrictions’
Wetherspoon has seen its total sales decrease by 13.5% in the 26 weeks to 23 January 2022, the company announces this morning. Pre-tax losses were £21.3m over the period.
Like-for-like sales decreased by 11.8%, while like-for-like bar sales were down by 12.7% and food sales by 11.1%. Slots and fruit machine sales were also down by 9.8%. Hotel room sales were the only area to increase, by 6.6%.
Chairman of J.D Wetherspoon, Tim Martin claims that following a “traumatic two years” the end of Covid restrictions has brought a return to “more normal trading patterns” in recent weeks. Trading for the last three weeks was 2.6% below the equivalent period in 2019, which Martin says reflects an improving trend.
The Wetherspoon chairman also adds that contrary to reports, the company has a “full complement of staff and is fully stocked”, with what he describes as some minor exceptions.
“There is pressure on input costs from food, drink and energy suppliers, mitigated to an extent, by a number of long-term contracts. Overall, the company expects the increase in input prices to be slightly less than the level of inflation,” he adds.
Martin says the government’s “Draconian restrictions” are “kryptonite for hospitality, travel, leisure and many other businesses”. The is company, however, confident of a strong future if restrictions are avoided.
“The readiness of the leaders of all the UK’s main political parties to resort to lockdowns and extreme restrictions, which were not contemplated in the UK’s 2019 plans for pandemics, is the main threat to the future of the hospitality industry, but also to the economy,” Martin claims.
The company says it has tried to improve as many areas of the business as possible, on a week-to-week basis rather than “aiming for ‘big ideas’ or grand strategies”.
“Frequent calls on pubs by senior executives, the encouragement of criticism from pub staff and customers and the involvement of pub and area managers, among others, in weekly decisions, are the keys to success,” Martin adds.
He also points out that Wetherspoon has been the biggest corporate sponsor of ‘Young Lives vs Cancer’, having raised £19.7m since 2002 for the cause. The company’s contributions decreased during the pandemic, but since the business reopened, Martin says contributions have bounced back “significantly”.
Backlash grows after P&O Ferries fire 800 workers without notice
The backlash against P&O Ferries is ramping up after the shipping company fired 800 staff, claiming it is “not a viable business” in its current state.
The British shipping company, which operates ferries from the UK to Ireland and Europe, fired 800 of its staff via video call. Staff were told it was their “final day of employment,” as the company reportedly lined up “coaches carrying replacement agency staff” at Dover and Hull.
The UK government now says it will review its contracts with P&O, according to the BBC. Transport minister Robert Courts said he was “frankly angry at the way workers have been treated” as he condemned the “wholly unacceptable” move in the House of Commons.
The mass-firing comes as P&O says it has made a “£100m loss year on year”, which has so far been covered by parent company, DP World. A spokesperson said it had to make a “very difficult but necessary decision” to secure the future viability of the business, which “employs an additional 2,200 people, and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK.”
DP World added: “Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now.”
The company transports around 15% of all freight cargo in and out of the UK and carried more than 10 million passengers a year pre-pandemic, but has suffered, like many transport companies, due to Covid-19.
The BBC reports that parent company DP World asked the government for £150m in direct aid to safeguard ‘vital supply routes and jobs’, but the request was turned down as the company had already claimed for more than £15m in grants and furlough, and paid out £270m in dividends to shareholders.
MGM joins Amazon in $8.5bn deal
Amazon has closed its $8.5bn (£6.4bn) acquisition of film studio MGM, a move the tech giant first announced in May last year.
MGM’s back catalogue includes the James Bond and Rocky franchises, 4,000 film titles, 17,000 TV episodes, 180 Academy Awards and 100 Emmy Awards.
The move comes after US and European competition regulators declined to block the deal, despite ‘growing concern’ over the company’s size, reports the Financial Times.
“We are excited for MGM and its bounty of iconic brands, legendary films and television series, and our incredible team and creative partners to join the Prime Video family,” says chief operating officer of MGM, Chris Brearton.
Senior vice-president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, Mike Hopkins, says: “MGM has a nearly century-long legacy of producing exceptional entertainment, and we share their commitment to delivering a broad slate of original films and television shows to a global audience.
“We welcome MGM employees, creators, and talent to Prime Video and Amazon Studios, and we look forward to working together to create even more opportunities to deliver quality storytelling to our customers.”
ASA ramps up sanctions against influencers failing to declare Instagram ads
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is adding reality star and influencer Charlotte Crosby to its non-disclosure webpage, for “repeatedly failing to flag ads on her Instagram”.
Influencers highlighted by the authority will have their names listed on the ‘name and shame’ webpage for three months and will be subject to a period of enhanced monitoring spot checks.
The ASA says it prefers to work with influencers and brands to help them stick to the rules, but claims Charlotte Crosby has “repeatedly failed to be upfront and clear” that her social media posts are ads.
“It’s not difficult: be upfront and clear when posts and Stories are ads. If this doesn’t bring about the changes we expect, we won’t hesitate to consider further sanctions,” an ASA spokesperson added.
The webpage was first launched by the ASA in June last year to name and shame influencers who weren’t sticking to the rules. Included at the time were Francesca Allen, Jess Gale, Eve Gale, Belle Hassan, Jodie Marsh and Anna Vakili, after the authority’s monitoring sweep discovered inconsistent disclosure on Instagram through Stories, posts and Reels. The ASA found its rules were being followed just 35% of the time.
Burger King looks to cut ties with Russian partner
Burger King is moving to divest its 15% stake in its Russian businesses. The chain, owned by Restaurant Brands International, announced last week it was suspending all “corporate support” for its more than 800 franchised locations in Russia in response to the war in Ukraine.
Whilst many companies have pulled their businesses out of Russia, Burger King’s stores are run by franchise partners, complicating the situation with “complex” legalities.
In an open letter to employees, international president David Shear said the company has been “working around the clock to do all the right things” in response to the crisis.
The company entered the Russian market 10 years ago through a joint venture partnership with three partners, including Investment Capital Ukraine and VTB Capital controlled by Alexander Kolobov, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the restaurants.
“VTB Capital, as an affiliate of one of Russia’s biggest banks, has partnered with several other western companies in Russia, including other large QSR brands. We own a minority stake [15%] in the joint venture and none of the partners has a majority share,” says Shear.
So far, Burger King has started the process to “dispose” its ownership stake in the business and says whilst it would like to do this “immediately”, it is clear it will take some time due to the joint venture agreement.
“We contacted the main operator of the business and demanded the suspension of Burger King restaurant operations in Russia. He has refused to do so. We suspended all corporate support for the Russian market, including operations, marketing, and supply chain support in addition to refusing approvals for new investment and expansion,” says Shear.
Shear adds that the business is committed to redirecting any profits it receives from the business, including its ownership stake, to the United Nations’ refugee agency. The business has also worked with franchisees from more than 25 countries to distribute $2m (£152m) of free meal coupons for Burger King restaurants to NGOs supporting Ukrainian refugees.
Last week, Uniqlo made a U-turn on its commitment to continue trading in Russia, eventually closing its 49 Russian stores.
Thursday, 17 March
Deliveroo ups marketing spend to grow market share
Deliveroo saw its revenues increase by 57% in 2021 to £1.8bn, primarily due to a rise in gross transaction value (GTV), it has announced in its preliminary results for the year.
The delivery brand saw further gains in market share in the UK where GTV grew by 71% year on year. The group also increased its market penetration, extending coverage to 77% of the UK population compared to 53% at the end of 2020.
On-demand grocery deliveries accounted for 8% of Deliveroo’s GTV in 2021, with an additional 4,000 grocery partner sites added during the year. The rapid delivery Deliveroo Hop service was also launched.
The brand’s gross profit increased by 43% to £497m, with adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, deductions and amortisation) showing a loss of £131m, higher than the £11m loss of 2020.
The company says a higher aggregate profit was offset by an increased marketing spend to drive brand awareness and boost new customer acquisition, along with further investment in new technology.
“We have continued to make good progress in executing our strategy and I am proud of our performance in 2021,” says Deliveroo founder Will Shu. “We grew rapidly across all of our markets, with 70% GTV growth in constant currency – at the top end of our previously-upgraded guidance range.
“Particularly encouraging to me was our performance in the UK and Ireland, where we continued to grow our market share and achieved profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis in a competitive environment – highlighting the strength of our customer value proposition.”
Brands show support for Ukraine with fundraising concert
Marks & Spencer has signed up as headline sponsor for a televised concert for Ukraine later this month.
ITV, STV and Livewire Pictures have joined forces with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and media and entertainment group Global to stage a two hour fundraising concert for the humanitarian appeal in Ukraine. It will take place on 29 March.
A line-up of artists and presenters will be announced over the coming days. The event will be broadcast across ITV and STV, as well as ITV Hub and STV Player. The broadcast will combine music performances with short films about the ongoing relief efforts in Ukraine.
All sponsorship and advertising revenue generated from the broadcast, expected to be more than £3m, will be donated to the appeal. Viewers will be able to donate throughout the evening.
“Music is a very powerful tool when it comes to showing support and solidarity, and at ITV we are proud and privileged to be working with Livewire Pictures, Global, M&S and the DEC on such an important and necessary fundraising event,” says ITV head of entertainment commissioning Katie Rawcliffe.
“Watching this escalating humanitarian crisis, we all want to find a way to make a difference. At M&S, we are doing everything we can to help the people of Ukraine – whether that’s through charity donations, sending urgent product supplies, launching customer giving in our stores or job opportunities for refugees. Our customers and colleagues have already been incredible in their response and by getting behind ITV’s Concert for Ukraine, it gives us all another way to show our support and raise vital funds for those so urgently in need,” says M&S COO Stuart Machin.
NHS takes Britain’s Favourite Ad 2021 title
The NHS ‘Get Vaccinated’ campaign was the most popular ad among UK consumers in 2021, according to new figures from System 1 and ITV. It tops a list of the 50 most emotionally-engaging ads of the year as determined by System 1’s Test Your Ad platform.
The Nation’s Favourite Ads report, compiled annually, sees ads rated from 1 to 5.9 stars based on viewer’s emotional responses, predicting potential to contribute long term growth to a brand. Despite Covid-19 references being seen by some as a ‘red flag’ last year, the NHS campaign featuring Elton John and Michael Caine has been named as the country’s favourite ad of 2021.
While 2020 saw Covid play a role in many ads, it was a far less common theme in 2021 as brands actively moved away from showing masks and references to ‘unprecedented times’ according to the report. Many of 2021’s popular ads were from brands which simply turned back to pre-pandemic campaigns. These include Magnum, which came ninth, Baileys at 24, Guinness at 37 and Churchill at 50.
Traditional ads from familiar brands proved popular, with familiar names including Quaker Oats, Cadbury Fingers and Walls scoring well.
2021 also saw atmosphere become more popular than storytelling, with ads that established a ‘vibe’ chiming with consumers, says the report. Purpose also proved popular, with ads that showed an obvious link between brand and cause – such as Guinness and pubs or the Co-Op and community food groups – scoring highly.
Discount retailer Aldi saw two of its ads make the top five of the list, joined by ads from Sky and Armitage Pet Care.
“Making great advertising isn’t easy, but these ads are powerful case studies of how to do it brilliantly. It’s sometimes easy to overlook the power of mainstream populist advertising, but what’s clear from this list is that the ads the nation loves also just happen to be the ones winning favour in the boardroom,” says ITV director of client strategy and planning Kate Waters.
TikTok named as sponsor of Festival de Cannes
TikTok has become the official partner of the 75th Festival de Cannes. The international film festival hosts members of the movie community every year.
The platform will provide exclusive content from behind the scenes, ‘red carpet’ coverage and meetings with artists.
“The Festival de Cannes is an iconic moment that has forever changed the landscape of global cinema, and we are truly honored to welcome them as an official partner,” says TikTok general manager UK & EU Rich Waterworth.
“Entertainment fans from all over the world turn to TikTok to be entertained, express themselves or discover something new, but they share an authentic and rewarding sense of community unlike anywhere else. Through this partnership, we look forward to opening up more creative possibilities for our community as they get ready to be inspired, moved and entertained, bound by a shared love of video and cinema.”
“With this collaboration, we’re looking forward to sharing the most exciting and inspiring moments from the Festival and seeing the Festival reimagined through the lens of TikTok creators and its community. We look forward to discovering all this with great eagerness and curiosity,” adds Thierry Fremauz, general delegate of Festival de Cannes.
To celebrate the sponsorship TikTok is launching #TikTokShortFilm, a global in-app competition that invites users to share their own short films.
Tourism Ireland sings the praises of St Patrick’s Day
Tourism Ireland is celebrating St Patrick’s Day with a campaign, launching today, that converts digital OOH poster sites into scannable billboards which activate a virtual festival that celebrates Irish music culture.
The international campaign takes in locations in London, New York, Sydney and Milan. The ‘Green Button Festival’ has been created by Publicis Poke and allows passers by to scan a QR code on the digital display to activate and control entertainment with the green button on their smartphones. It is the latest iteration of a wider campaign that seeks to remind travellers what awaits them in Ireland if they press the Green Button to go there.
“Our Green Button Festival will bring some of Ireland’s best-loved and up-and-coming acts to millions of prospective holidaymakers across the globe. We’re using the day to show the breadth of musical talent that the island of Ireland has to offer and encouraging people to come and visit to experience it for themselves. We want to remind everyone what they’ve been missing over the past couple of years and what fun St Patrick’s Day can truly be,” says Tourism Ireland director of central marketing Mark Henry.
Wednesday, 16 March
Fever-Tree to continue investing in brand as revenues jump
Fever-Tree has credited its growing brand strength and awareness with helping to drive revenue growth of 23% over 2021 to £311.1m.
Adjusted EBITDA profit rose 11%, from £57m to £63m, as the drinks mixer brand capitalised on a growing consumer trend towards premium spirits and away from wine and beer in retail stores, as well as the re-opening of bars and restaurants post-Covid.
Despite rising costs from inflation, supply chain difficulties and the impact of Covid-19, Fever-Tree continued to invest in marketing over the last year. The business invested in TV advertising campaigns in the UK and Spain, “upweighted” digital marketing spend across regions, and executed strong on-trade activations across the summer period.
Premium spirit brands are also “more engaged than ever” in seeking co-promotional opportunities, Fever-Tree says, resulting in multiple significant campaigns across key markets. Total marketing spend from the group remained “strong” at 9.3% of Fever-Tree brand revenue, compared to 9.9% in 2020.
In the UK, the brand claims to have maintained its number one position in the retail mixer category with 39.8% value share. Revenues for the region grew 15%, from £103.3m to £118.3m. In the on-trade market, “strong execution, brand strength and customer loyalty” helped the brand extend its leading share to 50.9%.
“Overall, I’m pleased with the progress the brand has made in the UK during the year,” says CEO and co-founder Tim Warrillow.
“We have been encouraged by our performance as the on-trade re-opens, as well as the sustained strength of our off-trade sales. We have maintained or increased our value share and number one position in the off-trade and on-trade respectively and continue to invest to drive our brand awareness and excite the category with new products.”
Meanwhile, in the US the business has continued to place “a lot of emphasis” on marketing and investment to grow Fever-Tree’s brand awareness with both consumers and the trade. The business finished the year as the number one tonic water brand by value at US retail, matching the position it has held in the UK and several European markets for a number of years.
Warrillow adds the business’s confidence in its long-term opportunity “only increases” as the spirit and mixer categories continue to grow and premiumise.
“We are excited by the growing interest in the long-mixed drink category from retailers, spirits brands and consumers, especially given the increasing focus on premium segments, which places Fever-Tree, as the largest global premium mixer brand, at the centre of these trends,” he says.
Wagamama-owner credits marketing and innovation with driving restaurant’s growth
The Restaurant Group (TRG), owner of casual dining chain Wagamama and a portfolio of pubs and leisure businesses, has grown its total sales by almost £200m over 2021, from £459.8m to £636.6m.
The group has therefore reported adjusted EBITDA profit of £81.2m for the year, up from £8.7m in 2020 when Covid-19 kept restaurants and pubs closed. On a statutory basis the business posted a loss before tax of £32.9m, a significant improvement on the £132.9m loss it reported the year prior.
Wagamama alone has seen like-for-like sales growth of 15%, representing an 8% outperformance versus the market, the business says. The group says customer ratings have remained strong, with its December 2021 external net promoter score (NPS) positioning Wagamama as the number two brand within the top casual dining chains in the UK.
The business highlights food innovation, marketing activity and growth in delivery and takeaway as the “key customer intitiatives” to have driven such growth across the brand.
At the beginning of the year, in support of Veganuary, Wagamama made a brand commitment that 50% of its menu would be plant-based before the end of the year, which was achieved in October. Vegan participation has increased by between 5 and 20% since introducing the pledge.
The brand is “continually evolving” its marketing tactics with “purpose-led” campaigns and initiatives, “to ensure we stay relevant and current”. This has included working with celebrities to continue building brand relevancy and equity.
Regional and local marketing activation plans remain a “crucial part” of the brand’s plan, it says.
Meanwhile, delivery and takeaway sales have increased from 16% of sales in 2019 to 28% in 2021. Like-for-like delivery sales were up 114% and like-for-like takeaway sales were up 76% over the 33 week period to 2 January 2022.
CEO Andy Hornby says 2021 was a year of “substantial progress” at TRG.
“The recapitalisation of the balance sheet and strong trading performance have allowed us to deliver a robust set of financial results despite the various restrictions that have impacted the sector,” he says.
“I’d like to thank every single one of our teams who have gone the extra mile on so many occasions during 2021 and delivered a market outperformance across all our brands”.
Aldi opens job vacancies to Ukrainian refugees
Aldi has joined the list of brands and retailers opening up applications for current job vacancies to Ukrainian refugees who are eligible to work in the UK.
The grocer has over 8,000 roles currently available across the country, mostly within its 950 stores. Vacancies include assistant store managers, store assistants, stock assistants, selectors, logistics assistants, as well as other office-based administration roles.
“We stand by the people of Ukraine and want to offer employment opportunities for those seeking refuge in the UK,” says UK recruitment director Kelly Stokes.
“By working with the government, partners and other employers, we hope to help as many people as possible and provide much needed stability and security in their lives.”
Earlier this week the Sunday Times revealed a coalition of more than 45 businesses are in talks with government to open up 10,000 jobs to Ukrainian refugees, including Marks & Spencer, Asos, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Lush and pub chain Greene King.
ICO fines companies targeting vulnerable people with marketing calls
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued fines totalling £405,000 to five companies found to be targeting older, vulnerable people with “predatory” marketing calls.
The ICO began investigating a number of companies following complaints from partner organisations including Action Fraud, Trading Standards, consumer group Which?, and call blocker provider trueCall. Most of these businesses were calling consumers to sell insurance products or services for white goods and other large household appliances.
Many of the complainants said the people receiving the calls were vulnerable, with some suffering with dementia or other underlying health conditions. Some targeted consumers lost thousands of pounds buying services the companies knew they did not need.
The ICO investigation found these companies were buying marketing data lists from third parties to deliberately target people aged 60 and over, homeowners, and with landline numbers. Many were also breaking the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations by contacting people who have registered with the Telephone Preference Service.
“These are unlawful predatory marketing calls that were targeted at some of the most vulnerable members of our society and driven purely by financial gain,” says UK information commissioner John Edwards.
“It is clear from the complaints we received that people felt frightened and distressed by the aggressive tactics of these companies, sometimes giving their financial details just so they could hang up the phone. This is unacceptable and clearly exploitative. It is only right that we take tough and prompt action to punish those companies responsible using our full powers.”
The five companies to have been fined thus far include Domestic Support Ltd and Seaview Brokers both based in West Sussex, UK Appliance Cover and UK Platinum Home Care Services, both based in London, and Home Sure Solutions Ltd, based in East Sussex.
These businesses are responsible for over 750,000 unwanted calls between them and have been fined between £15,000 and £110,000 each.
The ICO is continuing to investigate “a number of other companies”, with Edwards warning businesses making similar “nuisance calls” to expect a “strong response” from the office.
Dreams partners with Special Olympics GB in inclusion drive
Dreams is partnering with non-profit organisation Special Olympics GB, the largest provider of year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The bed retailer is the first British brand to partner with all three national multi-sport event associations in the UK – the British Olympic Association, British Paralympic Association and Special Olympics GB.
Marking the brand’s “commitment to inclusion”, Dreams will support Special Olympics GB in its mission to offer sporting opportunities to its 6,500 athletes and the 1.5 million people who live with intellectual disabilities in Great Britain.
Dreams colleagues will also work with the organisation’s volunteer network, supporting its events and activities across the country.
“It’s such an honour to be the very first British brand to partner with Team GB, ParalympicsGB and Special Olympics GB,” says CEO Jonathan Hirst.
“Special Olympics GB is truly one-of-a-kind. Not only in the opportunities it provides for people with intellectual disabilities to try new sports and compete, but also in the amazing community it has created.”
Dreams is also renewing its partnership with Team GB and ParalympicsGB, remaining their ‘Official Sleep Partner’ for the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic games.
According to the brand, this follows the success of the Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 games. Dreams is now the second most associated brand with Team GB and the most associated with ParalympicsGB among bed buyers, it claims, while one in two bed buyers in the UK now consider Dreams as their first choice.
Tuesday, 15 March
Diet Coke ramps up ad spend for global campaign
Coca-Cola has launched a global campaign for Diet Coke, kicking off a new creative direction for the brand as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.
The ‘Love What You Love’ campaign targets the brand’s “loyal fanbase” of women. It includes a TV ad, which shows a roller-skating woman who after taking a sip of her Diet Coke is transported to a deserted street so she can skate through rush hour in peace, all set to a version of Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet.
While the brand wouldn’t share exact figures, Omar Sadiq-Baig, senior brand manager at The Coca-Cola Company tells Marketing Week “the seven figure spend is almost double versus our March campaign last year”.
He expects the campaign to reach “94% of our fans, a whopping 18 times over the campaign period”, with the hope it will “drive brand relevancy with our drinkers, [so] we’re top of mind” when they come to choose a drink.
Coca-Cola “paused” its global advertising efforts at the height of the pandemic in 2020 and cut advertising investment by 35% that year. Last year it pledged to take marketing spend back to pre-Covid levels after revenue dropped 11% in 2020.
Continuing the Love What You Love theme, out-of-home activity includes a series of ads featuring the hands of different “style enthusiasts” holding a can of Diet Coke.
As part of the campaign, the brand is also teaming up with London Fashion Week (LFW) in the UK for an on-pack promotion offering people the chance to win luxury fashion vouchers, weekend breaks at top London destinations and exclusive access to catwalk shows.
“Diet Coke and fashion go hand in hand. We’ve worked with some of the biggest designers in the past and we know it’s something that’s really connected with our fans,” says Sadiq-Baig. “Partnering with LFW allows us to step back into this space, in our 40th birthday year, with credibility.”
DFS outlines new strategy to drive growth
Furniture retailer DFS, which also owns the Dwell and Sofology brands, has outlined plans to create a single technology infrastructure and source of data to connect all arms of the business. In doing so, the company hopes to improve market insight, drive marketing efficiency, better serve customers and help improve its investment decisions.
It is part of the retailer’s ‘Pillars and Platforms’ strategy, through which it hopes to uncover new categories for growth and hit its revenue target of £1.4bn by 2026.
The strategy focuses on three areas of the business: DFS, Sofology and the expansion of its home market, which includes beds and mattresses.
For DFS, it says the focus will be finding new growth opportunities from its ongoing showroom transformation programme, investing in new ranges and brands, as well as its retail execution, people and marketing.
For Sofology, the focus will be developing a strong product roadmap and rolling out more showrooms, as well as integrating with the existing group platforms.
Meanwhile, as DFS continues to expand into the market for beds and mattresses as well as living room accessories, it aims to gain a 4% share of the £4.9bn market by 2026.
As well as focusing on technology and data, DFS says it will achieve these three pillars by focusing on sourcing and manufacturing, people and culture and improving its logistics platforms.
DFS outlined the new strategy as it posted its interim results for the 26 weeks to 26 December 2021, the first half of its 2022 financial year.
The group posted revenue of £561.1m for the period, up 15% compared to two years ago, but down 2% on last year.
“We delivered a strong performance in the first half of the year, with market share gains and strong revenue growth on the pre-pandemic comparators. This was in spite of significant logistics and supply chain challenges,” says Tim Stacey, group CEO.
Looking forward, while he stresses that the macro-economic environment remains uncertain, he believes the business’s “scale, brand strength and integrated retail strategy will continue to drive market share gains ahead of the competition”.
“We will continue to invest in our digital platforms, our showrooms, our delivery networks and our UK manufacturing capacity, as well as expansion into other home categories which we believe will continue to drive long-term growth and profitability,” he adds.
Wilko backtracks after telling staff to work with Covid
Homeware retailer Wilko has apologised after advising staff to work even if they test positive for Covid.
The guidance, which was sent to the company’s 16,000 employees at the beginning of the month, said: “If you test positive for Covid-19 and feel well you can continue to come to work, if you feel too unwell you can follow the absence policy.”
However, Wilko CEO Jerome Saint-Marc yesterday apologised for issuing the policy, adding: “When we get something wrong, we hold our hands up, admit it, and work to correct the situation.”
He said the guidance, which was first shared by the Financial Times, “highlighted some miscommunication within our Covid-19 policies”.
The policy was issued following the relaxation of self-isolation rules in England, with a Wilko spokesperson earlier in the day stressing the guidance was “in line with government guidelines”.
But the firm appeared to backtrack, with Saint-Marc later stating: “Our advice to team members that have Covid symptoms [or] test positive is that while they’re no longer required by law to self-isolate, they should still stay at home and avoid contact with others. This will help reduce the chance of spreading Covid-19.”
Brands forced to shut in China as Covid cases surge sparking supply fears
Brands including Toyota, Volkswagen and Apple supplier Foxconn have been forced to halt operations in China as authorities impose lockdown measures to help stem the rise in Covid cases.
Tens of millions of people across the country are facing lockdown – among the biggest since the start of the pandemic – as China widens restrictions.
The entire province of Jilin is in lockdown, as is technology hub Shenzhen, which is home to the world’s fourth largest port, sparking concerns that crucial supply chains may be disrupted.
iPhones manufacturer Foxconn stopped its operations in Shenzhen on Monday, saying it would start again when “advised by the local government”. Its largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou remains open.
“Due to our diversified production sites in China, we have adjusted the production line to minimise the potential impact,” it told to the BBC.
Meanwhile Toyota has shut its factory in Changchun city in Jilin province, as has Volkswagen, which says production of VW and Audi cars and their components were “affected”, but that it hoped to reopen its factory on Thursday. Toyota has not indicated when its factory might reopen.
Younger consumers believe brands are exiting Russia to protect image rather than make a statement
Nearly a third (31%) of Britons believe brands that have ceased trading in Russia as a result of the war have done so to protect their public image.
The data from YouGov suggests younger consumers are most sceptical, with this figure rising to 38% among those aged 18 to 24 and 35% for 25- to 49-year-olds. Those aged over 65 are least cynical, with just 22% believing brands are pulling out of Russia to maintain a positive image.
Men and also far more sceptical than women, with 36% believing brands pulling out of Russia are doing so to preserve their reputation, compared to 27% of women.
Overall, the highest proportion of people (34%) believe brands are ending operations in Russia to make a statement against the war.
Older consumers are most likely to agree with this statement, with 45% of over-65s believing brands are making a political statement, but this drops to 38% among those aged 50 to 64, 29% for 25- to 49-year-olds and just 20% for the youngest group of 18- to 24-year-olds.
More women (42%) are more likely to think brands are making a statement against the war than men (26%).
Monday, 14 March
Brands join forces to offer jobs to Ukrainian refugees
A coalition of more than 45 businesses are in talks with government to open up 10,000 jobs to Ukrainian refugees.
The group, co-ordinated by entrepreneur Emma Sinclair, wants to ensure Ukrainians can secure visas, accommodation and language training to enable them to find work in the UK.
One business involved is Marks & Spencer, which told The Sunday Times it is “absolutely committed” to supporting Ukrainian refugees through the humanitarian response via its charity partners, as well as through jobs.
On 3 March, the retailer suspended shipments to its Turkish franchisee’s Russian business, donating 20,000 units of coats and thermals to Ukrainian families in need. So far £1.1m has been donated by Sparks customers to the UN Refugee Agency, taking the total donation made via M&S to £2.6m.
Asos is also said to be exploring offering Ukrainian refugees IT engineering roles in the UK, as well as looking at opportunities in its distribution centres in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The fashion retailer told the BBC it expects the number of positions available in the UK to be in double digits.
The Co-op says it will open applications up to refugees for 3,300 vacancies across its food business, while Sainsbury’s is poised to offer jobs in its tech and online grocery teams. Meanwhile, Morrisons has reportedly been in contact with the Home Office about providing “hundreds of jobs” as butchers, fishmongers, shop floor staff or in warehouse-based roles.
Elsewhere, The Sunday Times reports Lush is meeting with the Refugee Council to gain more information on how to bring refugees into the workplace, including roles usually advertised for internal candidates only.
Last week Tesco made 1,400 roles available to refugees across its business in central Europe and Vodafone said it would offer fast-track roles to Ukrainians throughout Europe.
Pub chain Greene King is another business exploring options to employ Ukrainian refugees. The company is in contact with the government and charities about whether it can offer employment opportunities to Ukrainian refugees when they arrive in the UK.
Calling out the “tragic events in Ukraine”, Greene King says it is committed to helping the Ukrainian people, whose livelihoods have been destroyed. Many of its pubs have been used as hubs for communities to donate items, which are being transferred through recognised charities directly to Ukraine, while the business has donated an initial £50,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Greene King had already taken the decision to stop exporting its beer to Russia and is now reviewing its supply chain in a bid to source products from alternative markets.
BrewDog boss ‘hired private investigators’ to track detractors
BrewDog co-founder James Watt allegedly hired private investigators to obtain information about people he believed were engaging in a smear campaign against him.
According to the Guardian, private investigators “who said they were working for Watt” approached people to gather evidence on those the brewery boss believed were maligning him in public.
The newspaper reports a former colleague of ex-BrewDog employee Rob MacKay, who appeared in the BBC documentary The Truth About BrewDog, was asked to give information on MacKay by employees for a company called Integritas Investigative Solutions.
The investigators are also alleged to have tried to find information on a woman Watt believed was involved in online allegations about him that appeared on social media. The Guardian reports the woman received multiple social media messages directly from Watt in which he warned she could face “legal action”.
Watt disputes the claims made in the BBC documentary and has lodged a complaint with Ofcom, having told people prior to the programme going live they could be “unmasked in court”.
The documentary follows the publication in June last year of an open letter from ‘Punks with Purpose’, a group of former BrewDog employees who accused the business of a “toxic attitude” and creating an internal “culture of fear”.
A week later, Watt appeared to take responsibility for the alleged toxic culture at the Scottish brewer and promised to introduce a suite of measures to help make it a “better business”, including an independent review.
In the LinkedIn post from June 2021, Watt claimed that in the “hard and fast environment” of high growth he had “all too often neglected many important people elements” of the business.
Hyundai suspends Chelsea sponsorship
South Korean car giant Hyundai has suspended its shirt-sleeve sponsorship of Chelsea FC over the club’s links with owner Roman Abramovich. The Russian businessman was disqualified as a director by the Premier League on Saturday, amid wider sanctions imposed on the football club.
Hyundai has been Chelsea’s official global automotive partner since 2018, but said in the current circumstances it had taken the decision to suspend its marketing communication activities with the club until further notice, reiterating its belief in sport as a “force for good”.
Hyundai follows shirt sponsor Three, which paused its deal with the football club on Thursday. The mobile network has requested the removal of its brand from the team shirts and around the stadium until further notice, saying that given the government sanctions imposed on Abramovich this was the “right thing to do”. Three is now offering connectivity packages to all Ukrainians arriving in the UK, as well as those in Ukraine.
According to The Athletic, Nike remains committed to its partnership with Chelsea, while training kit sponsor Trivago intends to maintain its deal with the club despite calling for rapid change of ownership.
Describing the uncertainty regarding the current ownership as “challenging”, the travel company says it is “looking forward to a transition of ownership as soon as possible”.
M&S to open toy shops in-store as third-party brand strategy ramps up
Marks & Spencer is to open Early Learning Centre toy shops in 10 stores by the end of March in a bid to become “more relevant” to families.
The Guardian reports the Early Learning Centre outlets will feature activity tables for children, as well as toys for sale, and follows a test selling the products online.
“We know a large proportion of our customers look to purchase kidswear and toys for family and friends,” says director of brands at M&S, Neil Harrison.
“So, by bringing the Early Learning Centre brand – with fun and interactive experiences – to our stores, we’re able to give our 22 million customers more reasons to shop with us.”
In addition, M&S is more than doubling the number of stores selling the Seasalt brand to 20 and taking Nobody’s Child – in which the retailer owns a minority stake – into nine stores, the Guardian reports. This latest extension of the third-party brand strategy brings at least one clothing or children’s toy brand to 27 UK M&S stores.
The intention is also to sell premium fashion brand Jaeger, which M&S bought out of administration in 2021, within several international stores.
Since first branching out with womenswear label Nobody’s Child in March last year, M&S now sells more than 35 third-party brands online, which represent 3.5% of ecommerce sales and have been purchased by 1.2 million shoppers.
Last week the retailer announced its “strategic investment” in activewear platform The Sports Edit, which under the terms of the deal will eventually be 100% owned by M&S.
The business is exploring a range of models from wholesale agreements, exclusive collaborations and investments – such as its stake in Nobody’s Child – to seed funding for small brands via the True Fund and “selected acquisitions” in the case of Jaeger and The Sports Edit.
According to managing director of Marks & Spencer’s clothing and home division, Richard Price, customers who buy third-party brands on average spend double and return to purchase 10 days sooner, the Guardian reports.
CMA launches probe into Google and Meta’s ‘stranglehold’ of ad tech market
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a probe into Google and Meta’s alleged “stranglehold” of the online display ad market.
In particular, the CMA is focusing on whether the companies restricted or prevented the uptake of header bidding services, and whether Google also affected the ability of other firms to compete with its products in this area. Header bidding allows media owners to offer online ad space to multiple buyers at the same time, rather than receiving offers one by one, making auctions more competitive.
The regulator will consider whether an agreement between Google and Meta – internally codenamed ‘Jedi Blue’ – broke the law. The CMA is also scrutinising Google’s conduct in relation to header bidding services more widely to see if the firm abused a dominant position and gained an unfair advantage over competitors trying to provide a similar service.
The European Commission (EC) has launched its own probe into the agreement between Google and Meta, while the deal is also the subject of a complaint in the US courts.
Chief executive Andrea Coscelli says the CMA is concerned Google may have teamed up with Meta to “put obstacles in the way” of competitors who provide online display advertising services to publishers.
“If one company has a stranglehold over a certain area, it can make it hard for startups and smaller businesses to break into the market – and may ultimately reduce customer choice,” Coscelli adds.
“We will not shy away from scrutinising the behaviour of big tech firms while we await powers for the Digital Markets Unit, working closely with global regulators to get the best outcomes possible.”
The proposed Digital Markets Unit, which will sit within the CMA, would be responsible for deciding which big tech firms face legally enforceable codes of conduct to govern their behaviour.
The CMA’s latest probe follows a market study into online platforms and digital advertising, which considered Google’s position in relation to header bidding services and the wider “ad tech stack”. The regulator has received additional complaints in this area relating to Google’s conduct.
Furthermore, the CMA is currently investigating competition concerns regarding Apple’s App Store, Meta’s use of data, and Apple and Google’s mobile ecosystems.