Greene King, the Belhaven-owning pubs and brewing group that has made a recommended £774 million takeover bid for Spirit Group, yesterday reported a leap in Christmas bookings.
However, the company, which brews its famous Scottish ale at Dunbar, and whose other brews include Old Speckled Hen, said it still expected families to rein in their spending over the festive season.
Greene King, which has 1,904 pubs and pub restaurants including the Loch Fyne and Hungry Horse brands, unveiled a 3.3 per cent rise in half-year sales to £615m in the 24 weeks to 19 October. That compared with £595.4m in the same period of 2013.
Its Christmas bookings are ahead more than 7 per cent, but the company said its Greene King leisure spend tracker survey showed more people expected to spend less on eating and drinking out over the Christmas period.
Chief executive Rooney Anand, right, said the pubs industry faced a “challenging” trading environment, adding: “With real incomes struggling to grow, customers remain cautious about spending on eating and drinking out.”
The group, headquartered in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, revealed that pre-tax profits in the latest period fell 3.5 per cent to £82.6m, after it sold 275 tenanted pubs to Hawthorn Leisure for £75.6m in May as part of its growing focus on managed outlets.
That strategy is behind its planned acquisition of Spirit Group, which is expected to complete by the end of this year.
The deal brings together GK’s leading pub restaurant brands with Spirit’s Chef & Brewer, Flaming Grill and Fayre & Square. Spirit’s Scottish pubs include Doctors and Milnes in Edinburgh, and Cairns bar in Glasgow.
GK said same-floorspace sales at its 1,040 managed pubs grew just 0.8 per cent during the latest period, due to the disappointing performance by England in the football World Cup and strong comparators of a hot early summer in 2013.
The group said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the vote by MPs last month to unwind the historical tied link between landlords and pub chains.
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