* Q3 group LfL sales up 3.3 pct, total sales up 14.4 pct
* Premier Inn Hotels LfL sales up 2.5 pct
* Costa UK LfL sales up 7.1 pct
* Says on track to deliver FY expectations
* Top FTSE 100 rise, shares up 3.8 pct
By Neil Maidment
LONDON, Dec 11 Britain's Whitbread Plc
has hit record sales at its expanding Costa Coffee business,
serving almost 4 million customers in the same week that rival
Starbucks Corp bowed to public criticism and agreed to
pay more tax.
"Costa's been the UK's favourite coffee shop for quite some
time and we remain the taxman's favourite coffee shop too,"
Whitbread Chief Executive Andy Harrison said on Tuesday, as he
revealed a 3.3 percent rise in third-quarter group like-for-like
Shares in the group, which have gained 50 percent on a year
ago, were up 3.8 percent to 2,506 pence by 0905 GMT, pushing it
to the top of the FTSE 100 risers.
"Costa's performance is likely to have received a boost from
the negative publicity around Starbucks' tax affairs, although
it has consistently reported this level of like for-like-sales
growth over the past 18 months," analysts at brokerage Panmure
Whitbread, which also runs Premier Inn hotels and the
Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurant chains, said underlying
sales at Costa were up 7.1 percent in the 13 weeks to Nov. 29,
up from 6.8 percent in the first half.
Sales at the Costa Coffee chain, which has expanded rapidly
to over 1,200 UK stores, were boosted by new advertising and by
food and Christmas ranges, it said, with sales hitting a record
10 million pounds last week as 3.8 million customers flocked
through its doors.
It said this was a record but gave no previous figures.
While Harrison said it would be difficult to single out any
benefit it was getting from Starbucks' woes, he did note brand
preference data had showed the U.S. firm "had taken a knock".
Last week Starbucks said it could pay 20 million pounds in
corporation tax in Britain over the next two years, responding
to public criticism over allegations of tax avoidance.
Whitbread's overall 3.3 percent growth marked a slowdown
from the first half's 4.3 percent rise in underlying sales, but
this had been expected as the first six months were boosted by
Britain's wet weather and the Olympic Games.
Across the group, underlying sales at its larger Premier Inn
unit grew 2.5 percent in the quarter, as it benefited from a
growing market share, particularly in London, and cost-conscious
customers remaining loyal to its affordable rooms.
Whitbread said overseas sales at Costa, which is aiming to
double in size to 3,500 stores worldwide by 2015/16, were also
up, with solid trading in the Middle East and China.
Underlying growth in the latter market had slowed slightly
from 19 percent in the first half, however, while central and
southern Europe remained difficult, it added.
Total Costa sales for the first 39 weeks of the year were up
22 percent to 734 million pounds. Like-for-like sales at its
restaurants in the quarter rose 1.9 percent.
Whitbread said it remained on target to meet market
expectations for the full year. On average it is expected to
post a pretax profit of 347.90 million pounds for 2012/13,
according to a Reuters poll of 22 banks and brokerages, up from
320.1 million in 2011/12.