A new report from global ratings agency Fitch Ratings has concluded there is a growing divergence in performance of pubs in the UK between managed sites and those that are tenanted or leased.
The UK Pub Sector Review suggests while the pub industry continues to be in 'structural decline', managed operators are adapting better and are succeeding at transforming the balance between being wet and dry-led.
Fitch Ratings also suggests geographic location is an increasingly important factor in pub performance with those in London and the south east outperforming others.
Stefan Baatz, senior director and head of Fitch's whole business securitisations (WBS) team, said while declining beer sales and an increased tax burden were hurting pubs there continued to be a growing difference between managed and tenanted or leased sites.
"Unlike most tenanted pubcos, managed operators have been able to adapt to socio-demographic changes and are increasingly competing in the growing UK eating out market. This has allowed them to mitigate the negative impact of declining on-trade beer sales," he said.
"While wet-led pubs in rural areas have been in sharp decline, food-led pubs and certain well-located wet-led pubs, notably in metropolitan areas, continue to resist the downturn. London-based pubs in particular have consistently out-performed the rest of the country in recent years," Baatz added.
Last month foodservice consultancy Horizons said managed pubs could be running out of market space and some might have to consider becoming restaurants in their own right.
Fitch Ratings, which expects continued moves away from the wet-led leased model due to rising rents and the problems of the smoking ban and falling beer sales, said it also predicts pubcos will continue to rationalise portfolios by disposing of under-performing pubs.
The ratings agency also suggests the lack of transparency around how profits are shared between pub companies and publicans has recently led to new types of transparent lease and tenancy agreements but these were yet to be rolled out to a larger scale.
In the full report Fitch Ratings also raises hope for the UK pub industry by comparing it with the French bistro market, which it says can be viewed as the French equivalent of the pub sector. French bistros have faced many of the same problems such as a smoking ban, competition from supermarkets and consumer changes but have been less reactive than pubs.
For example bistro owners were not keen to stock Diet Coke despite it being the top drink in France in 2007. This lack of commercial acumen, combined with the combined force of UK pubcos, give pubs here a better chance of survival, according to the ratings agency.