UPDATE 1-Pub operator Mitchells & Butlers rings in new year with higher sales

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Jan 9 (Reuters) - British pub and restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers reported strong sales for the festive season, defying High Street gloom and wet weather, as more diners opted for its pricier healthy menu options.

Several retailers performed poorly over the key holiday season, hit by last month’s general election and fewer shoppers visiting brick-and-mortar stores.

The owner of All Bar One and Toby Carvery pubs and restaurants said like-for-like sales rose 2.6% in the 14 weeks to Jan. 4, driven by a 3% rise in food sales.

“This is particularly impressive given the challenging prior year comparatives, election disruption and wet weather,” Liberum analysts said, adding that growth in food sales was because of the wet weather, which discourages drinking out.

Shares in the company rose 3.4% to 436 pence at 0848 GMT, making the stock the second-biggest gainer on the midcap index.

Founded in 1898, the company relied on beer for the bulk of its sales in the 1980s, but now around three quarters of its total sales come from food.

Mitchells & Butlers is the first large pub company to report its performance for December, setting the bar high for those to follow, Liberum analysts said.

Chief Executive Officer Phil Urban said in November he did not expect the timing of the election to interfere with Christmas parties and sales. “The election drags people out of their houses. The chances are they might hop in for a drink or a meal so it’s probably good news,” he had said. (Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)