UPDATE 1-Whitbread sees profit at top of forecasts after strong trading

Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:26am EST

LONDON Feb 27 (Reuters) - Britain's Whitbread said full-year results would reach the top end of market forecasts as growing demand across its Premier Inn hotels, Costa Coffee and restaurant businesses helped sales rise in the group's Christmas quarter.

Whitbread, Britain's biggest hotel and coffee shop operator, which also runs pub restaurants such as Brewers Fayre, has grown rapidly due to demand from cost-conscious customers for affordable hotels and a rising popularity for takeaway coffee, and has set its sights on further expansion at home and abroad.

The company said on Thursday group fourth-quarter like-for-like sales rose 6.8 percent in the 11 weeks to Feb. 13, up from 4.3 percent in its last quarter, with Premier Inn and UK Costa underlying sales up 8.3 percent and 7.3 percent respectively.

Shares in Whitbread, which have risen 70 percent in a year, were up 2.2 percent to a record high of 4,280 pence at 0807 GMT.

Premier Inn's revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key industry measure, rose 9.6 percent, up from 6.5 percent in the previous quarter, feeling the benefits of an improving hotel market and business confidence in both London and its much larger regional business.

Underlying sales at the group's restaurant business, which includes brands such as Brewers Fayre rose 4.4 percent, helped by strong demand over Christmas and better weather than a year ago when Britain saw heavy snowfall.

Whitbread said the strong group performance meant it expected to deliver full-year results at the top end of expectations. According to a Reuters poll of 20 analysts, 2013-14 pretax profit expectations range from 371 to 406 million pounds, with an average consensus of 393 million pounds.

The firm opened 312 Costa net new stores worldwide in the last year and said it would open a similar number in 2014-15, including 100 in China, pushing it to over 3,000 globally.

It will also add another 4,500 new rooms to its Premier Inn UK network in 2014-15.