Sales jump at Whitbread

PUB and hotel group Whitbread yesterday posted higher sales thanks to price-cutting, but forecast a “long slow haul” out of the slump.

The owner of Costa Coffee, Beefeater and Brewer’s Fayre pub restaurants and Premier Inn budget hotels boosted like-for-like sales 0.3 per cent in the third quarter to November 26, with total sales up 6.7 per cent.

Whitbread said there was a “flight to value” as cash-strapped consumers and firms tried to get the best deals.

The group has introduced cut-price meals in its pubs and has cashed in on firms using Premier Inns for business trips instead of dearer hotels.

Chief executive Alan Parker said annual results would probably top City hopes, although trading was tough and was likely to remain so next year. Shares ended yesterday up 50p or 3.75 per cent at 1380p.

“I think we’re looking at a long, slow haul out of recession,” he said.
Parker said Costa Coffee was the star performer in an overall “encouraging” third quarter and year to date.

Costa lifted like-for-like sales by 6.7 per cent in the quarter, more than double the first half rise.

Last week, Whitbread confirmed it was talking to central European coffee chain Coffeeheaven International about a possible 24p a share bid.

Parker declined to comment on the talks, but added: “We have always been interested in any bolt-on acquisition opportunities.”

Quarterly like-for-like sales at Whitbread’s Premier Inn chain fell 3.1 per cent, but this was more than half the fall in the previous quarter after Premier launched new pricing and targeted more weekend leisure business.