M&B welcomes back the punters after World Cup as food sales soar

Pubs and restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers yesterday reported a rebound in food sales following the World Cup as it highlighted its appetite for fresh acquisitions.

• M&B operates the successful All Bar One chain as well as many individual pubs Picture: PA

The group behind the Toby Carvery, Browns and All Bar One chains saw a 3.6 per cent rise in like-for-like sales in the nine weeks to 18 September - three times the pace set during the nine weeks to 17 July.

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M&B, which is rolling out a strategy to increase it focus on profitable food sales, saw a slowdown in business during the World Cup as football fans turned to drinks-led pubs to watch matches.

But yesterday's trading update showed its decision to reshape the business was paying off as customers returned after the football tournament, which finished on 11 July, and boosted food sales by 7 per cent.

The group, whose hundreds of individual bars include Edinburgh's historic Sheep Heid and the Hawes Inn in South Queensferry, plans to invest some 200 million next year on single site and small acquisitions as well as conversions of existing pubs.

Chief executive Adam Fowle said the group would spend about 50m snapping up single sites, small groups of pubs and new build sites in retail parks and town centres. He also declined to rule out a larger acquisition.

"We're keeping our options open although we feel no pressure to do larger transactions," he added.

Restaurant operators Carluccio's and Clapham House, owner of the Gourmet Burger Kitchen chain, have both been recipients of recent bids. M&B has been linked with a possible approach for Restaurant Group, which operates the Frankie & Benny's, Chiquito and Garfunkel's eateries, but Fowle declined to comment on specific targets.

M&B, which last week announced the acquisition of 22 Ha Ha Bar & Grill sites for 19.5m, added that overall like-for-like sales had risen 2 per cent in the 51 weeks to 18 September.

The deal was funded by some of the 500m proceeds from the sale of 300 drink-led sites and the offloading of the Hollywood Bowl ten-pin bowling business to AMF Bowling for 39m.

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The switch towards higher-margin food sales has enabled M&B to improve its operating margin, which it expects will have risen by 1.2 percentage points to 16.5 per cent in the full year.

Nigel Parson, an analyst at investment house Evolution Securities, said: "The reshaping and rebirth of M&B is now well in-train and today's trading statement was helpful to see improving trading conditions and a 1.2 per cent jump in margins."

Paul Hickman at KBC Peel Hunt, which has a "buy" rating on the stock, added: "M&B remains the fastest changing of the pubcos (pub companies], yet it is one of the cheapest stocks in the sector."

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