Spirit lifted despite slower growth

BeerThe owner of pub chains Chef & Brewer and Fayre & Square said it ended the last three months in "good shape" despite a slowdown in food and drink sales.

Spirit Pub Company, which has around 1,350 pubs, saw like-for-like sales increase 4.6% in the 12 weeks to March 3, compared with 6.2% in the previous quarter, but said it was still on track to meet profit expectations for the year to August.
Food sales have not softened as much as drink, with food growing 6.2% and drink rising 3.9%, in a sign that consumers are increasingly turning to pubs for dining.

The softer sales reflect the experience of competitors, including JD Wetherspoon and Punch Taverns, from whom Spirit demerged last summer, which both reported a decline in like-for-like sales in the months after Christmas.
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Spirit has been boosted by the roll out of food in its traditionally drink-led pubs, such as the Flaming Grill concept, which is now in 81 pubs across the country.

Food has become increasingly important for pubs in the wake of the smoking ban and the trend towards buying cheaper alcohol from supermarkets.

Chief executive Mike Tye said: "While we are mindful of the ongoing uncertainty and consumer pressures, we remain on track to deliver our full year expectations."

Spirit refurbished 156 pubs in the first half of the year, meaning 76% of its estate has now been invested in. It has overhauled its Chef & Brewer brand and is close to completing investment in its Taylor Walk and Fayre & Square chains.

The group said it will focus its investment on the Flaming Grill, John Barras and Original Pub Company. Shares in the group rose by nearly 1% after the update.

James Dawson, analyst at brokers Charles Stanley, said the results were strong against "a sector where some have struggled to make any progress". Mr Dawson added: "The mix of sites now offering food has already been moved higher as a result of this investment and thereby helping to drive sales."

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