Slug and Lettuce owner reports higher Christmas takings

(Reuters) - The owner of Britain’s Slug and Lettuce pub chain reported higher sales over the Christmas period, the first major British bar owner to report on holiday trading in a sector facing changes in drinking habits and shaky consumer sentiment.

A pint of beer is poured into a glass in a bar in London, Britain June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Stonegate Pub Company IPO-SPC.L, which has a portfolio of more than 700 pubs, bars and late night venues, said sales rose 12 percent on the year in the two weeks to Jan. 1.

The figures were the latest sign of solid Christmas trading after reports from high profile retailers Next and John Lewis..

Like-for-like sales growth was 7.8 percent between Dec. 1 and Jan. 1 and for important trading days, including Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, sales were up 8.3 percent on average, the company said on Friday.

“We have entered 2019 with positive momentum,” said Chief Executive Officer Simon Longbottom, adding that a new booking system had helped to maximise revenue and gain market share in the Christmas season for a chain that also serves food.

A younger generation more concerned with socialising online than heading to their local pub and the availability of cheaper drinks in supermarkets have put pressure on operators and spurred a series of closures in the past decade.

As many as 476 pubs shut for good in the first six months of last year, according to figures from the Campaign for Real Ale.

Many of those have been small, independent houses, however and another leading chain operator, Greene King GNK.L, reported an increase in profit in November.

Stonegate is the fourth largest managed pub company in the UK, established in 2010 to acquire 333 pubs from Mitchells & Butlers plc MAB.L and expanding through a slew of acquisitions since.

Its portfolio includes chains such as Slug and Lettuce and famous London drinking dens like Fleet Street’s the Cheshire Cheese.

Reporting by Karina Dsouza in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham/Keith Weir