Greene King in the mood for a party after sales sparkle


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The Independent Online

The boss of the brewer and pubs group behind the Hungry Horse chain yesterday claimed to be giving “swanky hotels” a run for their money with its Christmas parties.

Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, said the group’s Christmas bookings were already up 7.2 per cent on last year. With prosecco, champagne, cocktails, digestifs and aperitifs on the drinks menu, he explained, businesses had decided to host their Christmas parties at his pubs.

“With the range of drinks that we offer, it is not a compromise to come to our pubs... it is a great option for a company Christmas party.”

Greene King, which operates nearly 2,000 pubs in the UK and is taking over its rival Spirit, reported a record half- year  with sales up 3.3 per cent to £614.9m. However, pre-tax profit slipped 3.5 per cent to £82.6m due to the sale of nearly 300 of its pubs earlier this year. Sales for the period, excluding the disposals, were up 5.3 per cent.

Mr Anand said Greene King had increased its retail estate and disposed of “non-core tenanted pubs” to improve the “quality” of its properties.

The company now focuses on serving food in pubs but said demand from customers who come only to drink was still strong as it offered a wide range of options, from beer and wine to tea and coffee.

Despite the strong sales growth at the Abbot Ale brewer, Mr Anand warned that stagnant wages remain an issue: “With real incomes struggling to grow, customers remain cautious about spending on eating and drinking out.” Greene King’s summer trading period was tough compared with a record summer the previous year, but autumn sales were helped by the mild weather.

The group increased its dividend by 4.6 per cent and said it is on track to complete the £770m-plus purchase of Spirit by next spring. Under the deal, which awaits shareholder approval, its pub empire will grow to 3,100 outlets, with more than 1,000 in the capital. This will make it the third-largest group in terms of pubs but the largest for sales in Britain.

With combined sales of more than £2bn a year, the enlarged Greene King will far outstrip rival Enterprise Inns’ £640m of sales and Punch Taverns’ £460m.