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Express Catering adding two more franchises to Sangster line-up

Express Catering Limited, ECL, a food service company which operates at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, is adding two franchise brands, Bento Sushi and Freshens, which will launch within six months.

“We anticipate the two locations will cost us US$1.2 million, covering soft costs and inventories, to become fully operational,” said Express Catering CEO Ian Dear.

Bento Sushi started in Toronto, Canada, in 1996 and now has spread across North America to over 950 locations. It offers fast casual dining with meals of Asian origin. Freshens started in 1985 and now has some 350 locations. The Georgia, United States-based company provides wraps and fresh juices.

The franchises should start operations in the airport by next March, adding to the more than 30 restaurants, bars and lounges that Express Catering also operates under franchise.

Dear said there are no immediate plans to take the franchises out of the airport, especially since they haven’t been tested locally, but it’s a possibility for some.

“It is too early to tell, but we are planning on Aunty Anne’s Pretzels, Cinnabon and our chicken concept, Spice Kitchen and Bar,” said Dear, who controls Express Catering through Margaritaville St Lucia Inc, with Margaritaville Caribbean Group Limited as the ultimate parent.

Meanwhile, Express Catering’s sales are growing again with the steady return of air travellers.

For the first quarter, June to August 2023, ECL reported revenue of US$6.4 million, up 30 per cent from US$4.9 million in the previous year’s quarter. The company’s profit also climbed 30 per cent to US$843,000 from US$653,000.

The outlook for the rest of the fiscal year, which wraps up at the end of May 2024, is buoyant, said Dear. It’s based on the pronouncement about visitor arrivals from all tourism authorities.

“The winter season is promising to be the strongest yet in our history, as a country, which translates to an exciting time ahead for us,” he said.

Driving these numbers, Sangster International Airport witnessed a significant uptick in passenger movement, up 16.4 per cent year-over-year, and 18.34 per cent hike compared to the pre-COVID benchmark year of 2019, the company stated.

ECL’s growth in revenue also benefited from an increase in average customer spend, which climbed 9.5 per cent to US$8.69 from US$7.89 last year.

“We are bullish,” Dear declared. “Our operations and performance was strong. I am very proud of our rebound. It is driven by our teams, and I am very proud of them,” he said.

During the quarter, the company improved its cost-to-revenue ratio, resulting in a 67.2 per cent gross profit margin, compared to 64.5 per cent the previous year. This improvement was attributed to forward purchasing, which aids in stabilising future prices.

“The company has resumed forward-purchasing arrangements that should keep prices holding for a longer duration,” Express Catering said.

“While we continue to have cost of sale challenges, further improvements in this cost category are expected in the fiscal year as similar arrangements with more suppliers are reinstated.”

General and administrative expenses saw an uptick to complement the revenue surge, and was marked by the phased unveiling of ECL’s new stores, restaurants and franchises. The most recent additions are the Guitar Bar, which opened its doors in December 2022, and Bob Marley’s One Love restaurant, which d?buted July 2023.

ECL embarked on its expansion drive shortly after the onset of the pandemic. Its restaurants and bars increased from 24 to about 31, in tandem with the wider expansion of the Sangster International terminal by airport operator MBJ Airports Limited, under which 4,000 square metres of retail space was added.

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