Hen lifts Morland in the pecking order

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TREBLED sales of Old Speckled Hen, the strong bitter beer, helped Morland, the regional brewer, to increase profits by 35 per cent in the year to 30 September, writes Robert Cole.

Pre-tax profits rose 73 per cent to pounds 9.1m. However, the rise was exaggerated by a pounds 1.8m one-off charge that depressed last year's figures.

Operating profits rose from pounds 8.5m to pounds 11.5m. Total beer sales rose 30 per cent. The premium- strength ale is benefiting from supply agreements with Courage, Whitbread and, most recently, Scottish & Newcastle, which will sell Speckled Hen as a guest beer. Jasper Clutterbuck, chairman, said Speckled Hen was stealing market share from Ruddles County and Greene King's Abbot Ale.

Greene King made an unsuccessful hostile bid for Morland 18 months ago and continues to hold a 29 per cent stake. Morland incurred the pounds 1.8m exceptional charge defending itself against the bid.

Earnings per share, adjusted for the one-off cost, rose 16 per cent to 30p. The dividend was increased in line with earnings to 9.7p.

Morland shares added 7p to close at 525p yesterday.