A jump in Christmas business is helping the pub owner and brewer Greene King to top off a strong summer showing.

Christmas bookings are up 13 per cent compared with the year before, as families and businesses opt for pubs over more expensive restaurants.

Rooney Anand, chief executive, said: “We have focused on Christmas for the past three years, putting more and more effort into communicating it early enough, whether it’s family or work, to try and make our businesses their place of choice.”

Since the downturn began in 2008, companies have increasingly opted for pubs over more pricey venues, when it comes to the annual office celebration.

Current trading was strong, with managed like-for-like sales up 3.5 per cent for the first 30 weeks of its financial year.

Greene King’s numbers were helped by the disposal of 59 tenanted pubs, putting it ahead of its plan to get rid of 100 pubs by the end of the financial year.

Mr Anand said that the group would not actively consider mimicking rival Marston’s, which sold a tranche of 202 pubs in one go– unless bidders produced a “compelling” offer.

“We are not under pressure to raise funds and are succeeding in selling them on an individual basis,” said Mr Anand. Greene King’s tenanted estate is about 30 per cent smaller than its peak of 1,700.

The disposals knocked 4.7 per cent off the group’s tenanted revenues, which fell to £70.4m for the 24 weeks to October 13. Revenue on a per-pub basis rose by 3.5 per cent, as rental income and beer volumes increased over the same period.

Greene King’s managed division posted a 7.4 per cent jump in revenues to £437.5m. Operating profits in the division jumped 8 per cent to £89.6m. Food now accounts for 41 per cent of turnover at managed venues. This figure rises to about 60 per cent of turnover when drinks ordered with food are included.

Brewing volumes continued to improve – even as volumes across the sector drop– but higher costs weighed on the division’s bottom line. Revenue rose 3.1 per cent to £87.5m. Brands such as Old Speckled Hen helped increase Greene King’s share of the market by 1.6 percentage points to 15.1 per cent.

The brewer has pumped more money into its marketing budget, signing a sponsorship deal with the rugby union championship in England.

Profit before tax fell by a fifth to £65.6m thanks largely to a £15.7m impairment charge on some of its pubs. This weighed on diluted earnings per share, which fell to 31.4p from 33.7p.

Shares in Greene King fell 3.5 per cent to 851p, having risen sharply in the run-up to the results.

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