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Fuller's pride as it looks to double number of pubs after rise in profits

Fuller Smith & Turner, the London-based brewer, yesterday threw its hat into the ring for any parcels of pubs that might come on to the market after the sale of Scottish & Newcastle's 1,450-strong pubs arm.

While S&N's entire estate would be beyond the reach of the London Pride brewer, the shake-up in the pubs market could provide opportunities for Fuller's, Michael Turner, the chief executive, said.

He added: "We would like to double the number of pubs. We're always looking at everything that comes on the market but so far we haven't found what we want."

His comments came as Fuller's pre-tax profits for the year to 29 March almost doubled to £17m, reflecting the absence of an exceptional loss incurred on property disposals the previous year. On an underlying basis, pre-tax profits rose 10 per cent to £16.4m on sales up 4 per cent to £137.6m.

Mr Turner attempted to gloss over the effect of City job losses on trading at its pubs in London's financial district. Although one quarter of the group's managed estate - about 25 pubs - is based in the City, a strong performance from its brewing division helped to mask the shortfall, he added.

The group said its results were "reassuringly good" in a difficult year for the industry. It is expanding the food offering across its pub estate to compensate for a decline in sales. Like-for-like sales across its managed estate fell 1.7 per cent, while food sales rose by 1.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Average profit per house across its tenanted division rose by 7 per cent, reflecting the improving quality of the estate, it added.

The group's hotels arm, which includes sites in Bristol, grew turnover by 31 per cent and revenue per available room by 11 per cent.

It is seeking permission to buy back 10 per cent of its unquoted "B" shares, while pressing ahead with a programme to buy back its quoted shares.