Food and beer fuel Marston's growth

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The Independent Online

The brewer and pubs operator Marston's said its focus on food and local beers was paying off as it reported an improved trading performance yesterday.

The company, which counts the Pitcher & Piano and Tavern Table brands among its 2,000-plus pubs, and brews ales including Pedigree, Hobgoblin and Brakspear, said the financial year for the 12 months to 2 October showed stronger trends in all three of its operating divisions.

Sales in its 489-strong managed pubs business rose 1.7 per cent during the year and by the same percentage in the final nine weeks of the trading period. A 2.5 per cent rise in food sales outstripped drinks growth of 1.4 per cent as Marston's benefited from its "F-Plan strategy", which saw it focus on "food, families, females and forty/fiftysomethings". Food sales now account for about 40 per cent of sales in its managed estate and has been accompanied by a plan to build more outlets.

Like-for-like profits in Marston's tenanted and leased pubs division, meanwhile, are expected to be 3.7 per cent below last year, compared with the 4.5 per cent decline reported in May. The beer business is likely to report turnover and operating profits slightly ahead of last year.

Shares in Marston's closed 1.95p higher last night at 97.6p, valuing the company at £557m. Analysts hailed it as a decent performance in the face of dire late summer weather. The company is expected to report annual profits of £73m, up slightly on a year ago.