The chances of JD Wetherspoon striking out into a new area of F&B – as it famously did with coffee and breakfasts – remain slim as the company’s focus now is on nurturing its existing menus, its founder Tim Martin has told FEJ.
Mr Martin, who is chairman of the national pub chain and still owns 30% of the business after floating it in 1992, said the expansion of its offering in the past decade made milestone-defining forays into untapped areas unlikely.
“I think we are covering most bases now,” he explained. “The main thing is not really to try and move into new markets but to try and improve all the aspects of the menu and products that we already sell. We think that is much more important than trying to find a new area to go into. It is much less glamorous and much less newsworthy – but it is also much more difficult!”
Mr Martin – whose fortune has been estimated at £300m – revealed that JDW’s strategy is to alter the menu at its 900 pubs every six months, with the emphasis squarely on “small improvements” over wholesale change.
Although JDW made its name as a traditional wet-led pub chain, it has benefitted hugely from the evolution of the sector into a place for all-day meals and hot drinks.
JDW is now one of the largest sellers of coffee in the UK and Mr Martin this week described the exact moment when he realised the chain needed to get into that market.
“A few years ago I was wandering with one of our guys in Central London and we noticed a Starbucks completely full at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and we thought, ‘bloody hell, there’s a lot more people there than the pub we’ve just been in’. So we started doing Cappuccinos, which is a very difficult thing to do well with 500 or 600 pubs – and I wouldn’t by any means say we perfected it but we realised that if they take the trade away to an institution other than a pub, nationally you are not going to survive in the long run. We don’t sell quite as many coffees as Starbucks but we sell a hell of a lot more than most coffee shop chains.”
History repeated itself a short while later when JDW expanded into breakfasts. The move was greeted with huge scepticism at the time but breakfast is now its number one selling meal.
“I am not saying everyone should do that – be bloody careful before you do because it is a big enterprise – but it is an example of shifting the business on,” he said.
Asked by FEJ if catering equipment price hikes since the start of the year would lead to a temporary downturn in JDW’s spend on new kitchens, Mr Martin – an avid pro-Brexit campaigner – replied: “I think it is something that has to be managed… but no we are not halting investment, we are continuing as normal.”