M&B's food trade boost sales

PUBS and restaurants group Mitchells & Butlers said it had seen strong trading over the Christmas period, boosted by food sales, but remained cautious on the outlook for consumer spending.

The company, which has over 1,600 pubs and restaurants and whose chains include Harvester, All Bar One and Toby Carvery, said like-for-like sales in the nine weeks to January 22 were up 2.5 per cent.

Over the 17 week period to January 22, sales were up 3.1 per cent.

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"The like-for-like sales rise is driven by food at plus 6.1 per cent. The driver behind this is spend per head, we believe," said Seymour Pierce analyst Hugh-Guy Lorriman.

"Such sales growth should convert into healthy profit growth, especially as it is not volume driven."

But the group, Britain's biggest operator of branded pubs and restaurants, sounded a note of caution on consumer spending and cost increases in the year ahead.

This failed to dent the shares, which rose six per cent this morning.