Marston’s has announced overall like-for-like sales increased by 1% in the 16-week period ended 18 January.
Trading over the Christmas fortnight was “strong”, with a like-for-like sales growth of 4.5%. The brewer said this period compensated for more “subdued” trading in the first three weeks of December, when poor weather hindered sales.
Costs have “generally been in line” with the guidance provided at its last preliminary results, though the company said that second half year costs will increase to £2-3m following the National Minimum Wage increase this April.
Marston’s Beer Company produced slightly lower volumes than last year, reflecting a “weaker performance” in the off-trade in December. Excluding lager, volumes were in line with last year, while earnings were also in line with expectations.
In its latest update, the brewer said it aims to reduce its borrowings by £200m by 2023, with the intention of generating annual net cashflow of at least £50m after dividends.
Its disposal plans have been “accelerated” to achieve this target. The company said it has so far completed or exchanged on £60m of disposals, and it has now increased its target to £85-90m.
Ralph Findlay, CEO of Marston’s, said: “Marston’s has delivered a creditable performance in a challenging market. Trading in the key Christmas fortnight was good and has remained solid since which is encouraging.
“Our balanced pub portfolio enables us to perform well in the context of current market dynamics and our market-leading beer company has continued to increase market share in both the on and the off trade in the period.”
He added: “We are making excellent progress on our debt reduction strategy, well ahead of the original 2023 target. Looking forward, greater clarity on the political agenda should positively impact consumer confidence.
“Overall the economic environment for the consumer looks encouraging with low unemployment and healthy wage growth providing us with increasing confidence that the market will grow in 2020.”