There’s good news for a change. Reports published today show that for the first time in a decade, UK pub numbers have risen. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number rose by 0.8%. And the main reason is down to food sales.
In 2003, four in 10 employees within the UK pub industry worked behind the bar and three were employed in the kitchen; but today, the story is very different. Pubs and bars across the UK now employ 457,000 people and of this, food staff make up 43.8% of employees.
It seems that going for a pint has transfigured into going out for a meal. This is very good news for the industry. Despite the significant closures seen over the past few years, there has been an increase in jobs. With 7,000 (an increase of 16%) more jobs in the sector in 2019 compared with 2018.
There is no doubt that our consumer habits are changing with pubs having to diversify to accommodate these changes. It may come as a surprise that one of the largest chains, J D Wetherspoon, serves more coffee than any other restaurant, except for Costa.
But the chain has proved it can put its money where its mouth is. It announced last month that would inject £200m into the business over the next five years, with the creation of 10,000 new jobs and new pubs.
In the same vein, independent and smaller pubs are serving coffee, tea and breakfast to attract a different demographic such as women and families.
These changing habits are further reflected in a report just out. This confirms vegan food to be on the increase, with sales of meat-free foods expected to exceed £1.1bn by 2024.
In 2019, more than one in four new food product launches were labelled vegan. Last year, a smorgasbord of meals and snacks aimed at vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians went on the market. The uncontested leader of the pack being the outrageously popular Gregg’s vegan sausage roll.
14% of Britons consider themselves flexitarian, meaning they consume meat occasionally but their diet is mainly plant-based. This is twice as many as vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians combined. And those cutting down on meat soared from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019. Sales of meat-free foods rose to an estimated £816m in 2019, up 40% from £582 million in 2014.
Still Pressure for Smaller Pubs
It was also reported that the number of micropubs, small pubs and bars in the UK saw a rise in 2019 by 0.4%, the first time in over 15 years that the net figure has increased. This category is defined as those with under 10 employees, however, it is also under a great deal of strain faced with challenges such as business rates, beer duty and price matching with the big chains.
Hugh Stickland, senior statistician at the ONS, said: “While smaller pubs have been struggling to survive in recent years, bigger pubs have been growing in number. We’ll have to wait to see if this marks a revival for smaller ‘locals’.“