A pub food price war is expected to break out in England as operators attempt to lure new customers through their doors in the first few weeks of the smoking ban.
The combination of a change in customer profile following the ban, increasing pressures on consumers' disposable income and poor summer weather will put pubs under increased pressure to deliver a strong performance, according to Friary Marketing and Consulting Group (FMCG).
David Humphreys, director at FMCG, told Caterer that the squeeze would be felt at the lower end of the market, particularly in pubs offering meals below £5 a head.
He cited marketing activity by JD Wetherspoon as a prime example. The group has distributed discount leaflets to customers, offering some meals at virtually half price, which Humphreys said "challenged supermarket ready meals".
He added that price cuts by some pubs in the Mitchells & Butlers and Greene King portfolios were further evidence of discounting to entice customers to buy food in pubs over the next three crucial months. "We're expecting to see more of this type of promotional offer in the coming months," said Humphreys. "I would suggest that the pub operators are pushing at an open door and will find some success."
However, Humphreys questioned how sustainable rock-bottom prices could be. "You ask if they're trying to take on the supermarkets," he said. "If you go to Marks & Spencer you might not even get a lasagne for £2.99 but you can get one in Wetherspoon's until the end of September."
A Wetherspoon's spokesman confirmed that the focus on food would continue. "Food has always been a big part of our offering and never more so than over the next couple of years," he said. "We certainly want to be competitive with other pubs."
By Christopher Walton
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