NFU insight into the reopening of the foodservice sector


Foodservice outlets have not had an easy year. Many businesses have been closed for more days than they have been open over the past 15 months. The CGA has collected data on the reopening of the foodservice sector which the NFU's food chain team has analysed closely.

Here we look at how the foodservice sector has performed since reopening in April 2021. Have foodies rushed back or is confidence low? Has the weather put a dampener on things? Read on to find out more.

Phase 1 – reopening outdoors

On Monday 12 April 2021, foodservice business could reopen outdoors. But what actually happened?

  • Only 23.2% of England’s known licences were trading again by Thursday 15 April 2021.
  • Four in ten (39.1%) of England’s food pubs have reopened. Reopening has been more widespread in the pub sector than in restaurants, thanks to the wider availability of beer gardens and other outdoor areas.
  • During this first stage, venues offered 14 main meals on the menu, on average, and one of those would cost consumers an average £9.12.
  • Burgers accounted for 34% of all main meal sales on Monday 12 April, nearly double their share in April of 2019. This is a clear positive for the red meat sector.

Businesses that opened early outdoors benefited from good weather and strong consumer confidence. However rain put a dampener on sales towards the end of April. The CGA statistics show that pub sales in April were down 21% on April 2019, restaurants were down 30%. Consumers are still embracing draft beer and cider with some reporting shortages of beer.

Phase 2 – reopening indoors

On Monday 17 May 2021, foodservice businesses could fully reopen indoors. So what happened at that point?

  • As of 17 May, 67.1% of businesses that had not yet traded could do so.
  • Britain’s managed pubs, restaurants and bar groups recorded a 26% drop in like-for-like sales in May compared with 2019. This included two weeks of outdoor-only hosting.
  • The freedom to serve indoors provided a boost to the managed restaurant sector lifting total sale losses to 13%.
  • The rise in food-led occasions benefited wine sales. They were down 15%. Beer was behind, down 27%.

When the CGA polled consumers they found that just over half had been back to outlets within 10 days of the reopening of inside serving. This is a faster return than was seen after the first lockdown in 2020.

Furthermore, the MCA is reporting that premium coffee shops and bakery outlets are growing at the fastest rate. There has been a shift of focus on the on-the-go operations which have experienced less challenges than other hospitality outlets.

Looking ahead

The scale of the impact that the pandemic has had on outlets is starting to be seen. At the end of April 2021, Britain had 106,548 licensed premises. That is 7.4% or 8,560 fewer than there were in March 2020. The UK eating out market is expected to make a full recovery and even exceed pre-pandemic value by the end of 2022, according to research carried out by Lumina Intelligence. The UK Eating Out Market Report 2021 found that 46% of respondents surveyed in May said they plan to eat out at the same frequency over the next 12 months, while 13% said they would eat out more.

What is the NFU doing?

The NFU will continue to monitor the situation in the foodservice industry and the impact this will have on NFU members.