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UK minister asks Applegreen arm to re-open units

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Applegreen COO Joe Barrett says key workers need service. Photo: Damien Eagers

Applegreen COO Joe Barrett says key workers need service. Photo: Damien Eagers

Applegreen COO Joe Barrett says key workers need service. Photo: Damien Eagers

Applegreen's Welcome Break subsidiary in the UK has been asked by the government there to re-open dozens of its food service units during the Covid-19 crisis because the business is deemed an essential service.

It could see Welcome Break have to reactivate as many as 1,000 staff members.

Applegreen owns 55pc of Welcome Break, which operates 24 motorway service stations in the UK, two trunk road service areas and 29 hotels. The hotels are closed during the pandemic. Applegreen also has almost 200 forecourts and motorway service areas in the UK under its own brand.

Welcome Break received a letter last week from the UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps asking for its food service areas to re-open.

Applegreen chief operating officer Joe Barrett told the Irish Independent that Welcome Break operates a total of more than 300 food service units, including Harry Ramsden, Subway, Burger King, Starbucks and KFC. Of those, 220 are currently closed, although the Welcome Break stations are open.

Mr Barrett told analysts last week that Applegreen had taken "swift action" to close a lot of its food locations.

Speaking at the weekend, the chief operating officer said it's "hard to say" at the moment how many of the Welcome Break food offerings may re-open.

"It's probably about two per location, so in the order of 60 or 70 to re-open," he said.

Supply lines for some chains have been disrupted, and that limits the food offers that can re-open. He said it's most likely that some Harry Ramsden and Burger King outlets will open.

Applegreen has 202 outlets in Ireland, and operates almost 200 in the United States.

He said filling station convenience stores here have seen solid trade in items such as alcohol, bread and sanitiser spray.

The company also handles fuel card sales all over the country for ambulance services, the defence forces and some Garda divisions.

In the United States, Mr Barrett said there has not been a significant impact yet on the group's food offerings.

He noted that Burger King outlets at its forecourts are all operating as drive-throughs only now, however.

The chief operating officer said the Applegreen group has initiated a number of safety protocols for staff in the United States, drawing on the company's experience in recent weeks in Ireland and the UK.

Mr Barrett is also the chairman of industry group Retail Excellence Ireland.

He said that many retail landlords here are being "very aggressive" in dealing with the tenants facing rent payment difficulties during the pandemic.

"We're hearing it on a daily basis," he said, and urged the Government to act.

Irish Independent