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Confident Greene King to bring back its Hungry Horse brand

PUBS and brewing group Greene King has begun reintroducing its low cost Hungry Horse brand to Scotland as it posted a 5.7% rise in first half pre-tax profit to £85.6 million despite the continuing constraints on consumer spending.

rooney anand: Confident of the market north of the Border.
rooney anand: Confident of the market north of the Border.

Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand said that Belhaven Black, its rival to stout market leader Guinness, helped its brewing business buck a declining market by catering to the sweeter Scottish palate.

Greene King last month opened the 300-cover Linwood Farm in Renfrewshire, its first new build pub in Scotland.

This is being followed by another new build outlet, this time for its budget Hungry Horse chain, in Clydebank.

Mr Anand said of Greene King's performance in Scotland: "The retail business is performing very strongly and all credit to the team there (in Scotland) who are doing a fantastic job."

In recent years Greene King has sought to build its food offering in Scotland and make more outlets family friendly as cash-strapped diners traded down from restaurants to pubs.

Greene King merged its previous Hungry Horse outlets in Scotland into the Eating Inn brand it acquired with the acquisition of Scottish company Belhaven in 2005.

Mr Anand said that Greene King has successfully opened a number of Hungry Horse outlets in England in recent years and the extension of the programme to Scotland is a reflection of its confidence in the market north of the Border.

The group plans to open 90 more pubs in the coming 18 months to take its estate to its target level of around 1100. This is a sharp increase since the summer of 2010 it was operating 888 directly managed outlets.

Greene King, which has 300 outlets in Scotland, said adjusted pretax profit rose to £85.6m in the 24 weeks to October 13, broadly in line with analysts' expectations.

Mr Anand said trading since the end of the period had been strong and that the economic outlook was improving, although he said that customers remained careful with their money.

He said that many customers budgeted for only a certain number of evenings out a month and so major occasions, such as sporting events, were often followed by a lull in demand.

But its Christmas bookings are ahead of last year by 13% and Mr Anand believes that the chain could benefit from the mid-week positioning of Christmas which might boost takings on the weekends either side of the event.

"While trading through the first half of the year and since the period-end has been strong, and the economic outlook looks to be improving, customers remain careful with their money, particularly outside London and the South East," Mr Anand said.

"We believe that our strategy, tailored for these conditions, will continue to deliver growth and further value to our shareholders."

Mr King said that Belhaven Black, which launched last year in an effort to take on Guinness with a sweeter brew, "has been quite interesting" and was attracting people who previously didn't drink stout.

"The Scottish palate is slightly sweeter that the English palate and the Irish palate perhaps," Mr Anand suggested.

Its new brands, which include Belhaven Black and Old Golden Hen, sold 27,000 barrels in the period, up 60% on last year.

Greene King said first-half revenue was up 5.2% to £595.4m.

Its board declared an interim dividend of 7.6p per share.

The company has 2,300 pubs, restaurants and hotels across Britain.

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