* Wetherspoon expects annual loss of 30 mln pounds
* Flags higher labor and marketing costs
* Group says recovery has been slow and laborious
* Shares hits lowest levels since start of pandemic
July 13 (Reuters) - Britain's J D Wetherspoon warned
of losses this year as costs for labor, repairs and marketing
eat into its bottom line, and said 'natural beer drinkers'
belonging to an older population were staying away from pubs,
hurting its sales.
Shares in Wetherspoon, which had earlier expected to break
even this year but now sees an annual loss of 30 million pounds
($36 million), were down nearly 8% on Wednesday, hitting their
lowest since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic-hit pubs, whose numbers have hit a record low
in England and Wales, have been struggling with costs, lower
consumer spend and increasing competition from supermarkets.
The recovery in pub sales for many companies had been
"slower and more laborious" than expected, Wetherspoon said.
A fall in beer sales from 2019 levels can probably be
attributed to working from home, people stepping out less during
the day, and health concerns among older people, Wetherspoon
Chairman Tim Martin told Reuters.
Martin has been an outspoken critic of Britain's handling of
the pandemic and believes the long-term challenge for the pub
industry continues to be the tax disparity with supermarkets.
"The difficulty now, for the entire pub sector, is that
drinking and eating at home looks to be sticking around longer
than first thought," Hargreaves analyst Matt Britzman said.
Wetherspoon, owner and operator of over 800 pubs in the UK
and Ireland, said sales of draft ales, lagers and ciders, once
its largest contributors, were 8% below 2019 levels.
"When pubs were closed people probably got used to staying
in. We're probably more inclined to be creatures of habit than
we realize," Martin said.
Often referred to as "Spoons" by its younger clientele who
consume more spirits and cocktails, Wetherspoon said its
like-for-like sales for 11 weeks of its fourth quarter to July
31 were 0.4% lower than in the same period of 2019.
The company, which is fully staffed barring minor
exceptions, said it has contracts for energy supplies until the
end of 2023 at fixed prices to battle the spike in energy costs.
($1 = 0.8405 pounds)
(Reporting by Sinchita Mitra and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru;
Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Bradley Perrett and Jan