Bury St Edmunds: Greene King defies consumer gloom

PUBS and brewing group Greene King continued to defy the squeeze on consumer spending today as it reported increased sales growth over the summer.

In a statement released ahead of its annual general meeting later today, the Bury St Edmunds-based company said like-for-like sales within its retail business were up 2.6% after the first 18 weeks of its current year, with growth of 4.3% over the past 10 weeks.

Greene King said the performance by the division, which consists of managed pubs and is the largest and fastest-growing part of the group, had been achieved despite a tough comparison with last year when sales benefited from the FIFA World Cup.

Food sales, a key element of Greene King’s strategy in response to challenging trading conditions within the pub trade, continued to drive the growth, with like-for-like growth of 4.2% after 18 weeks and 4.7% in the last 10 weeks.

Greene King added that its recent acquisitions, Cloverleaf and Realpubs, were both “trading strongly” while its latest deal, for the Capital Pub Company, which was announced in July, had now been declared unconditional, allowing it to go ahead with integration plans which should achieve efficiencies of �2million.

Within the group’s tenanted pubs business, average earnings per pub were up 2.4% after 16 weeks. Total earnings for the division were down 1.0% on a like-for-like basis, but the like-for-like figure for its core estate was ahead of last year, Greene King said.

In its brewing and brands business, core brand own-brewed volumes were up 1.8%, with 5.0% growth in the last ten weeks, compared with a decline of 8.0% in the overall UK ale market in the last quarter.

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“All of our category-leading core brands are outperforming their categories with Old Speckled Hen performing particularly well”, said the group.

“Overall, our margins, profit, cashflow and balance sheet remain in line with our expectations,” it added.

Looking ahead, Greene King said the trading outlook remained “uncertain”, with UK consumers having to cope with rising costs, falling disposable income and the prospect of increased unemployment.

But it added: “Overall, however, we are confident that our retail expansion strategy, and the consistent delivery of excellent value, service and quality to our customers across each of our businesses, will enable us to deliver growth, further increase our market share and continue to deliver value to our shareholders.