Marston's tucks into rising sales

Pubs chain Marston's offered more evidence that Britons deserted the kitchen in favour of eating out over Christmas and New Year.

The owner of Tavern Table and Pitcher & Piano, which has about 200 pubs in Yorkshire, joined Harvester and All Bar One chain Mitchells & Butlers in reporting bumper sales over the festive period.

Marston's said like-for-like revenues between December 23 and January 3 were up 11.2 per cent and offset the impact of snow earlier in December. Shares in the group fell 1.45 per cent to 102.3p.

Across the six weeks to January 8, like-for-like sales at its 485-strong managed pubs division were flat on a year earlier while the figure for the 16 weeks to last weekend showed an improvement of 2.1 per cent.

Like M&B, which reported strong sales figures on Thursday, Marston's said eating-out demand drove the recent improvement as food sales lifted 4.4 per cent and drink revenues grew 1.2 per cent over the 16-week period.

The company has benefited from its F-Plan strategy, which has seen it focus on "food, families, females and forty/fifty somethings". It is also capitalising on longer term trends towards more eating out, as food sales now account for around 38 per cent of its revenues, up from 27 per cent in 2004.

The company added profit trends in its tenanted and leased pubs division continued to improve, helped by the roll-out of new agreements that have given landlords more incentives to grow their business.

Sales of Marston's-brewed beer, which includes Pedigree, Hobgoblin and Brakspear, were up six per cent in the 16 weeks.