UPDATE 1-Food driving people to drink at Spirit Pub outlets

Thu Apr 24, 2014 6:44am EDT

* H1 revenue increases about 3.8 pct to 406 mln stg

* Like-for-like sales at managed business rise 4.8 pct

* Shares up 3.5 pct (Adds CEO & analyst comments, details and share movement)

By Aastha Agnihotri

April 24 (Reuters) - Spirit Pub Company Plc said like-for-like sales at its managed pubs showed robust growth in March as a recovery in consumer spending encouraged more people to dine out.

The company, which operates pubs under brands such as Chef & Brewer, Fayre & Square and Flaming Grill, said on Thursday that like-for-like sales at managed pubs rose 8.3 percent in the four weeks to March 29.

The monthly results were also helped by warmer weather compared with March last year, which was exceptionally cold.

Spirit's managed pubs, which have been pushing their food menus to attract customers, account for nearly 90 percent of the company's revenue.

"Food is increasingly driving people to our pubs," Chief Executive Mike Tye told Reuters.

"However, when people come to eat with us, they also drink, which is why there is not a greater ratio of food to drink."

Shares in the company, which was spun off from Punch Taverns Plc in 2011, were up 3.5 percent at 81.18 pence at 1039 GMT on the London Stock Exchange.

Revenue rose 3.8 percent to 406 million pounds ($681 million) in the six months ended March 1 from a year earlier.

Like-for-like net sales at managed pubs rose 4.8 percent in the first half, with food sales outpacing drinks sales.

Numis Securities said Spirit Pub's outperformance in like-for-like sales against data compiled by the Peach Tracker - the sales monitor for the UK pub and restaurant industry - had increased to more than 3 percent during the last eight weeks.

The summer months typically account for more than a third of Spirit Pub's full-year profit, but this summer is expected to be particularly beneficial as it includes the Football World Cup.

The pub operator said last month it expected like-for-like sales in its managed business to rise 3.0-3.5 percent this year, benefiting in part from the government's extension of licensing hours during the football tournament starting in June.

"Since the government has relaxed licensing hours, it comes as a big opportunity. People do watch other games, but the real interest lies in England (football team) so we are expected to benefit from this," Tye said.

Spirit Pub also stands to gain from the one-pence-per-pint cut on beer duty and the freezing of a duty on spirits and cider announced last month. ($1 = 0.5960 British Pounds) (Reporting by Aastha Agnihotri in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Ted Kerr)

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