A trend towards traditional fare

The British public’s appetite for eating out is undiminished, with the Office for National Statistics suggesting that spending on eating and drinking out of home has grown by 82% in the 10 years from 1992. The pub sector is one of the fastest growing in the UK and it is estimated that it now accounts for some 18% of the out of home market.

Food sales in managed pubs now account for 32% of their revenue in the year ending May 2005 compared with an estimated 12% in 1987. Pub catering covers a range of outlets from community pubs selling traditional pub grub to venue pubs offering contemporary cuisine and surroundings.

Information from ACNielsen’s Pubtrack Food Service, based on the food sales of 14 managed pub companies in the year to May, shows that pub food sales grew by some 4.5% in 2005 to date (January to May). Main meals have led this growth, rising 6% in the same period, supported by desserts 5.9% and side dishes 2% growth.

Children’s dishes saw strong 5% growth in 2004, representing the successful transformation of pubs into family-friendly eateries.

However in the wake of Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve the quality of school dinners, children’s dishes have now suffered a 7% decline in the number of servings. The “Feed Me Better” campaign and the media focus on our nation’s children’s health has pushed food higher up the list of priorities for parents and consequently appears to have influenced the food that parents are choosing for their children.

The previously popular chicken nuggets and chicken shapes, losing over £1.8m of sales or 785,000 servings in the current year to date, have led these declines in children’s dishes. The main culprits here are Chicken Teddies, Battered Nuggets and Popcorn Chicken. Conversely, the children’s dishes growing in popularity are more traditional, with sausages, steak, roasts and shepherds pie all featuring in the fastest growing dishes in the year to date.

Opportunities do still lie with children’s meals in spite of these declines, as they are currently only offered in 50% of managed houses. Children’s meals are served in 95% of food pubs, but opportunities lie in community and venue pubs, with only 37% and 25% distribution respectively.

The traditional trend is also apparent looking at adult meals. While children’s dishes have declined, managed pubs continue to serve more adult dishes, with the number of servings increasing by 3% in the current year to date.

Traditional dishes account for 83% of adult dishes served in the year to date, with the number of these servings up by 5%. The fastest growing adult traditional dishes include roasts, steaks, cottage pie, casserole and lamb shanks. With consumers now spending less time cooking and eating in the home than ever, knowledge on how to prepare these traditional British dishes is diminishing, giving pubs the perfect audience for dishes “cooked like Mum used to”.

Other adult dishes, although featuring new and exciting cuisines from around the world, are declining by 5% in the current year to date, suggesting that British is currently best with pub goers. Pasta dishes, Mexican dishes, Indian curry and pizza are the fastest declining types of dish.

However, there are indications that other foreign cuisines are continuing to grow in popularity within managed pubs, with Thai curry, piri piri chicken, koftas and moussaka showing strong growth in the current year to date.

It is clear that health concerns have impacted the performance of children’s dishes in the short term. Traditional food trends are impacting menus, along with less commonplace foreign dishes which are performing well. Despite these changes, the managed pub market is currently getting it right, with food revenues growing by 4.5% (year ending May), compared to 1% growth for liquor, beer and soft drinks.

There is a possible smoking ban looming for pubs serving food, potentially leading to the prospect that some pubs may drop their menus in favour of allowing smoking.

Nevertheless, with food continuing to become increasingly important to pubs, the future seems to point to further growth in this sector.

ACNielsen Pubtrack Food Service analyses food sales of more than 10,000 managed pubs with data supplied by 14 pub companies. They are: Mitchells Butlers, Spirit Group, Laurel, Greene King, Wolverhampton Dudley, Whitbread, Yates Group, Barracuda, Young’s, Fuller’s, Eldridge Pope, Noble House, JW Lees and Charles Wells. The data is based on weekly customer sales figures through pub tills, currently up to 28 May 2005.

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