Quiet yet excellent year for Whitbread

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Whitbread has had a quiet year, but last week unveiled excellent results.Apart from some recent fuss over Whitbread Pub Partnerships, Whitbread has...

Whitbread has had a quiet year, but last week unveiled excellent results.

Apart from some recent fuss over Whitbread Pub Partnerships, Whitbread has stayed largely out of the headlines in recent months.

But during that time it has been working away to produce some sparkling ideas in retailing and pub restaurants.

Last week's results impressed the City and shares rose by 11p.

The company made almost £200m in profit for the six months to August 30, an increase of 11.6 per cent. And this was achieved, according to chairman Michael Angus, in times of strong competitive activity.

"Despite the competitive market, our highly professional property team is able to secure retail sites at sensible prices. We are determined not to acquire sites where the price is too high to enable them to generate future returns."

Gearing increased from 27.3 per cent to 32.2 per cent, which still leaves plenty of room for major acquisitions should the company find something at the right price.

But Inns managing director Bill Shannon said: "I do not anticipate any further acquisitions over the next two to three years."

He added: "I put these successful figures down to the fact tat we have had some excellent acquisitions in recent years.

"There has been a bit of a gear-change going on at Whitbread. We have been able to roll out brands and develop them alongside our existing ones."

He added that Whitbread may have been slightly underestimated this year by analysts who have had their eyes on Bass and C-T. "We haven't had the distractions of major corporate activity," he said.

Shannon said: "We have been selling off the bottom ends of all the divisions, from Pub Partnerships to Threshers."

Beer sales were up two per cent in a declining market and market share reached a record of 15.6 per cent.

But the growth was all in off-sales. Pubs saw beer sales decline in line with the market.

Managed houses —once again — performed much better than tenancies.

Managed sales were up 10 per cent at £410.7m.

Drinks sales were up seven per cent and food sales rose by 14 per cent.

The company puts this success down to its branded operations, such as Brewers Fayre and Hogshead.

Restaurants provided even better news, thanks to the acquisition of BrightReasons and Pelican.

Traditional brands such as TGI Fridays and Beefeater also did well and Costa Coffee grew strongly.

Overall, restaurant sales were up by 25 per cent.

Whitbread has been displaced in the headlines all year by Bass and Carlsberg-Tetley, both of which companies are thought to have been damaged by the failure of their plans to merge.

In the meantime, Whitbread has been building up its businesses and brands.

On the subject of WPP, this remains one of the poorest performing parts of the company, but the estate remains far less tainted by legal challenges over the tie than some of its rivals.

Shannon said: "Segmentation is alive and well. People want to go to pubs where their will be more people like them."

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