UK pub group cheers sales improvement

British pub group JD Wetherspoon reported some respite from falling sales today, as the pubs chain pressed ahead with plans for 30 more non-smoking sites this year.

British pub group JD Wetherspoon reported some respite from falling sales today, as the pubs chain pressed ahead with plans for 30 more non-smoking sites this year.

The group said like-for-like sales were positive in the three weeks to Sunday, although the year-on-year gain was helped by the negative impact of Euro 2004 on the performance 12 months ago.

In the previous seven weeks, the figure became a decrease of 1.8% as Wetherspoon continued to battle against tough trading conditions.

It did not provide a breakdown of sales at the 25 pubs where it has banned smoking as part of an attempts to pre-empt legislation on the issue.

A further 30 sites, including pubs in Leicester, Chichester, Birmingham and Birkenhead, are expected to become non-smoking by Christmas as Wetherspoon looks for 10% of its estate to be smoke-free by the end of the year.

In its last update in April, Wetherspoon said trading at the pubs converted so far had revealed lower bar sales but much stronger demand for food.

Finance director Jim Clarke said those trends had continued, but added that the initiative was proceeding to plan.

He said: “It’s not just a case of closing one night and opening as a non-smoking pub the next. We have a plan and spend money on freshening the pub up, as well as working with local press and radio to drum up momentum.”

In light of today’s figures – covering most of the fourth quarter of the company’s financial year – Wetherspoon said it was on track to meet market expectations for its annual results. Analysts have pencilled in profits of around £45.5m (€66.2m), compared with £54m (€78.5m) a year earlier.

Wetherspoon said sales were up by 3% at £779m (€1.1bn) in the financial year to date, with the figure 2.6% stronger at £172.8m (€251.2m) in the 11 weeks to July 10. The latest like-for-like figure was 0.4% weaker, helped by the improvement seen in Euro 2004, and in line with a year-to-date decrease of 0.5%.

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