Greene King, the pub and brewing group, insisted it has plenty of growth to shoot for in the eating-out market and by making further acquisitions after it toasted a rise in interim profits.
The unseasonably warm weather has helped the brewer of Greene King IPA and Old Speckled Hen ales to accelerate its sales growth in the last six weeks, but the group warned that next year will be "tougher" than this year for consumer spending.
Greene King has expanded its food offer significantly in recent years and delivered a 16.3 per cent jump in total food sales over the 24 weeks to 16 October. On a like-for-like basis, the pub company's food sales rose by 4.9 per cent over the period.
Rooney Anand, the chief executive of Greene King, said: "The UK eating-out market is worth £40bn and we have less than 1 per cent. We have got bags of share we can take." He added: "It is largely through getting people to come more often rather than lowering the prices or changing the menu." In the last six weeks, Greene King's food sales have accelerated to be up by 6 per cent, boosted by the balmy weather.
Founded in 1799, the group has 2,410 pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK, including the Hungry Horse, Old English Inn and Loch Fyne Restaurant brands.
The group grew profits, before exceptional items, by 5.6 per cent to £77.2m, on total sales up by 9 per cent to £527.5m. Its retail, and brewing and brands businesses both grew operating profits, but these slipped by 2.3 per cent at its 1,460 tenanted, leased and franchised pubs division.
Greene King – which acquired the Capital Pub Company and 33 freehold sites in London for £96m in September – plans to grow its estate of retail pubs to 1,100 over the next three to five years.
Mr Anand said: "We are committed to expanding our estate. We will seek both to build and buy pubs." But Greene King wants to shrink its tenanted estate by about 250 pubs.