Marston's enjoys a merry Christmas despite snow

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The Independent Online

The pub and brewery business Marston's has added its name to the growing list of pub groups reporting a bumper Christmas, yesterday outlining "robust" sales that defied the "exceptionally wintry" conditions in one of its key trading periods.

The owner of the Tavern Table and Pitcher & Piano chains said like-for-like revenues at its 485-strong managed pubs business rose by 2.1 per cent in the four months to 22 January.

Food sales shot up by 4.4 per cent over the period, compared with a more modest 1.2 per cent rise in drink revenues. And the festive period was particularly successful, with total sales up by 11.2 per cent compared with Christmas 2009. Marston's is already pouring more resources into food, as part of its "F-plan" strategy to focus "food, families, females and forty/fifty-somethings". Food now accounts for 38 per cent of sales, compared with 27 per cent in 2004.

The brewer's rivals report similarly strong sales. On Thursday there were upbeat results from rival Mitchells & Butlers. The owner of the Harvester and Toby Carvery chains reported a 6 per cent jump in food sales in the past 17 weeks, including 163,000 Christmas dinners. Their smaller rival Fuller, Smith & Turner, which owns 360 pubs, reported sales up 3.5 per cent in the 43 weeks to 22 January.

But Marston's' tenanted and leased pubs are having a trickier time.

The division's like-for-like profits were down by 1 per cent in the period, following the 4 per cent fall seen over the last financial year, despite new "franchise-style" landlord agreements designed to boost growth.

The brewery division – which includes the Pedigree and Hobgoblin beers – saw sales up 6 per cent in the 16 weeks to 22 January.