London Pride helps cheer sales at Fuller pubs group

Fuller, Smith & Turner, the pubs group with a major presence in the City, has heralded an upsurge in drinking activity in London's financial district.

Fuller, Smith & Turner, the pubs group with a major presence in the City, has heralded an upsurge in drinking activity in London's financial district.

Following two years of "double-digit" sales shrinkage in the City - which Fuller counts as running from Holborn to Canary Wharf - the company has seen a rebound. For the six months to the end of September, City trading grew 3 per cent, on a like-for-like basis, and since that time the rate of growth has picked up, Fuller said.

Michael Turner, the chief executive, said: "It is significant because the City has been through quite a tough time. This bodes well for the future. It won't happen overnight. We see steady growth now."

The company has 23 pubs or bars in the financial district, including branches of its Fine Line chain. Mr Turner said this makes it the leading drinking venue owner in the area, providing a bellwether for the health of the City. He added thatthe upturn in City business was not a case of people "drowning their sorrows".

"We have been through all that, redundancy parties and the like. Now people are confident and happier to be seen in the pub," he said.

The group, which makes traditional beer and owns hotels, as well as having 231 pubs across the country, reported pre-tax profits up 7 per cent at £8.7m. The underlying profit increase was 2 per cent. Turnover also edged up 2 per cent at £73.0m.

Mr Turner said the drinking trend was away from alcopops - the likes of Barcardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice - in favour of wine and soft drinks. He said: "Pre-packaged spirits have had their day. Wine is doing well. Cask ale is doing very well."

The company has refurbished its eight-strong Fine Line bar chain and is now concentrating on its Ale & Pie houses.

Fuller's Beer Company business and Tenanted Inns continued to perform well, while the improvement at its eight hotels seen kicking in earlier this year had continued, it said.

The company added: "However, profits have been held back significantly in managed pubs and bars by a combination of higher planned refurbishment costs and disappointing summer weather compared with last year."

Mr Turner said that Britons were rediscovering a taste for cask (or real) ale and were moving away from lager. Fuller's London Pride is now the biggest-selling premium ale in the country, he added.

"People want real flavour. They are tired of things that don't taste of anything," Mr Turner said.

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