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Greene King's profits up on back of cheap lager

CHEAP supplies of Carling lager have helped boost performance at brewer Greene King's Scottish pubs as catering to value-conscious consumers helped it achieve a 7% rise in first half pre-tax profit to £82.7 million.

TOAST: Chief executive Rooney Anand was delighted with the results in Scotland. Picture: VisMedia
TOAST: Chief executive Rooney Anand was delighted with the results in Scotland. Picture: VisMedia

The company also said it is seeing rising sales of wine, coffee and food on both sides of the Border as people change the way they use pubs.

Chief executive Rooney Anand said: "Our business has been gearing up to delivering very good value to consumers – not just lower prices but the quality of the food and drink as well."

To encourage trade, Greene King introduced Carling as its value lager in directly managed Scottish pubs, priced below that of key rivals.

At the same time it increased the number of fresh dishes on the menus in managed pubs north of the Border.

Greene King has 316 pubs in Scotland, of which 103 are managed directly by the company, as a result of its acquisition of Belhaven in 2005.

Mr Anand told The Herald: "Our Scottish pubs business has continued to perform very well. Our brewing business has had a slightly tougher time competing head on in the free trade."

He said that vouchers have become increasingly important in driving trade.

"I think the voucher culture and the promotional culture of consumers shopping around for a deal is very much prevalent right now and is probably gaining momentum since the beginning of the [credit] crunch in 2008."

In its managed division UK-wide, food sales were up 12%, against a 3% rise in the wider market.

Wine sales were up 22% on the same period last year and sales of hot drinks increased 8.3% year on year.

"We are chasing the customers and giving them what they are looking for," Mr Anand said.

He added that the company is opening more outlets in new housing estates and near shopping centres as the pubs industry gravitates away from locations near factories and in industrial communities.

In Greene King's tenanted and leased arm, which like the rest of the industry has been harder hit by the downturn, it is providing support to around 26% of pubs, up on last year.

"It is part of our strategy to take a little bit more control of the offer to make it more sustainable," Mr Anand said.

Operating profit in that division was down 6.6% at £32.4m.

In its brewing and brands business operating profit was down 13.5% at £14.1m.

Greene King blamed in part rising prices for other brewers' lager which hit its wholesaling business, particularly in Scotland.

Nevertheless its performance meant that Greene King, whose chains include Hungry Horse and Loch Fyne, met analysts' expectations for pre-tax profit for the 24 weeks to October 14.

The group raised its interim dividend by 6.75 to 7.15p per share.

Its shares closed up 5.5p or 0.9% at 615.5p.

Greene King which operates 2298 pubs, restaurants and hotels across Britain, said retail like-for-like sales had risen 2.2% in the last six weeks, with trading "resilient".

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