An increased appetite for Christmas dinner in the local helped brewer and pub operator Greene King enjoy record sales over the festive period, while benefiting further from its greater focus on food offerings.
Shares in the company — which runs the UK’s biggest pub chain — rose 4 per cent on Wednesday morning following news that sales at the group grew 67 per cent in the first three quarters of its financial year, including its Spirit outlets. Greene King purchased the Spirit pub business for £774m last year.
Rooney Anand, Greene King chief executive, said: “We’ve managed the [Spirit] integration faster than expected, but have been able to do it without throwing either team off, so we’re very pleased overall.”
Like-for-like sales over the 40 weeks to February 7 were up 2.2 per cent in the Greene King retail business, year-on-year, and up 1.1 per cent at Spirit. But both performed particularly well over the festive period, with sales over the two weeks around Christmas up 5 per cent at Greene King and 5.2 per cent at Spirit.
On Christmas Day itself, the group achieved record sales of £6.8m across the combined retail estate, on the back of strong food orders.
Mr Anand said a focus on “hallmark events” such as Christmas, Mother’s Day and St Patrick’s day had become “a critical way of driving footfall” — particularly as consumers were still managing their spending more cautiously than in the pre-2008 period.
Greene King’s improved trading comes at a time of transition in the pub industry, as operators prepare for the end of the centuries-old “ beer tie” system, whereby pub tenants are obliged to buy beer and other drinks from their landlords. Greene King said it had disposed of 33 leased or rented pubs so far this year, while opening 10 new directly-managed sites.
It also reported a “surge” in the popularity of its flagship India Pale Ale in China. Chinese president Xi Jinping was photographed drinking a pint of IPA with David Cameron during his visit to Britain last October.
Mr Anand said the president’s visit brought “some great PR to leverage” and potential for growth in the Chinese market, but added that the company’s activities in the country are still “small beer”.
Karl Burns, analyst at Panmure Gordon, said the results were in line with expectations but “solid” enough to warrant a slight increase in his forecast full-year profit to £248m.
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