Christmas cheer for Marston’s

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PUB and brewing company Marston’s said rising sales, strong Christmas bookings and plans to concentrate more on food-focused outlets will boost its prospects after posting full-year pretax profit slightly below analysts’ forecasts.

Marston’s, home to the Pitcher & Piano bars, registered underlying pre-tax profit up 1 per cent to £88.4m for the year to October 5, against analysts’ consensus forecast of £90.45m. Poor weather had dampened the previous year’s results and also dragged on sales at the start of 2013 before a hot summer boosted performance in the second half.

Like-for-like sales for the seven weeks to November 23 at its food-focused Destination and Premium pubs were up 3.1 per cent.

“Current trading has been encouraging, I think that’s good against the market,” chief executive Ralph Findlay said. “Now the key Christmas period is coming up and the Christmas bookings look very strong compared with last year.”

Rival pubs group Mitchells & Butlers this week announced a 0.1 uptick in sales for the eight-week period starting September 29.

Marston’s, which has 2,100 pubs in Britain, announced that it will accelerate the sale of its worst-performing drink-led pubs and build new food-focused pubs targeting women, families and more mature customers.

“We are managing that transition from the kind of pubs where people used to go, but don’t go to anymore, to those where they do,” Mr Findlay said.