FESTIVE FILLIP CHEERS TRADE

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by Mike Bennett and Richard Matthews Encouraging signs that trading over Christmas and New Year was ahead of expectations has heartened a pub sector...

by Mike Bennett and Richard Matthews Encouraging signs that trading over Christmas and New Year was ahead of expectations has heartened a pub sector looking for a way out of the consumer downturn. One of the leading trade bodies hailed the festive season as "good business being done ­ and a good time had by all." Said Mark Hastings, communications director of the British Beer & Pub Association: "We're still getting information in, but it's certainly the case that pubgoers took advantage of an extended holiday. Trade has been encouraging ­ good business was done and a good time was had by all. But the focus now shifts to the next few months with a lot of consumer uncertainty out there." A survey commissioned exclusively for the MA, carried out by beer flow monitoring specialist Nucleus Data, provided powerful evidence that tills were jingling (see Nucleus box, below). "Our figures confirm that for many pubs there is good trade to be done if you want it," said director Clive Consterdine. Precise measurements of draught beer sales, using equipment installed at 300 pubs across England and Wales, showed that from 23 December to 1 January business was positive on all but one day ­ Monday 30 December. And a clutch of pub operators are already reporting upbeat sales. Union Pub Co's 1,000 outlets recovered well from a slowish early December ­ and said trade "picked up impressively". MD Stephen Oliver said: "We are six barrels per pub over budget, and we're very pleased." Punch Taverns commercial director Francis Patton revealed like-for-like sales well up across the 4,200-strong estate. "Christmas came late but it was good," he said. "We're col-lating figures and they're very positive. Some food-led perfor-mances have been exceptional." Said Spirit Group commercial director Andrew Knight: "We have exceeded expectations, particularly in our food outlets." Paul Wells, MD of Charles Wells, believed the sales pattern augured well for Britain's locals. "As trading over Christmas has shown, there will be a revival in the classic community pub that offers a warm welcome," he said. Late night operator Urbium was "very pleased" ­ the London branch of flagship chain Tiger, Tiger reporting a record December. Like-for-like sales in the four-weeks ending 31 December grew by 3.4%.

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