WHITBREAD, the owner of hotel group Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, yesterday appointed former Boots chief executive Richard Baker as a non-executive director.<br /><br />Baker, who is also chairman of gym chain Virgin Active, succeeds Charles Gurrassa, who is stepping down after nine years at the group.<br /><br />Chief executive Alan Parker yesterday slammed rumours that Baker was being prepped to take over as chief executive of the group: “It’s a load of utter nonsense frankly – it’s never been remotely considered.”<br /><br />Whitbread yesterday reported that group total sales for the 24 weeks to 13 August were up by 2.4 per cent, largely boosted by strong growth at its Costa coffee chain.<br /><br />The group’s shares rocketed by 18 per cent to 1,212p as investors were encouraged Whitbread’s performance was stabilising.<br /><br />Costa’s like-for-like sales had lifted by 2.7 per cent , with total sales jumping by 18.4 per cent. Whitbread recently ramped up its efforts to be more aggressive in the coffee market introducing its “seven out of 10 coffee lovers prefer Costa” advertising campaigns.<br /><br />Parker said: “We’re significantly outperforming the competition. Coffee Republic has gone bust, Starbucks has trouble in its US home market – we have clear leadership.”<br /><br />Costa now owns 1,000 stores in the UK after opening 88 in the summer. Parker said that by the end of the year it will have 500 stores internationally, primarily in China, India and Asia.<br /><br />But the group’s budget hotel division, Premier Inn, is still experiencing a softening market, with like-for-like sales down 7.7 per cent. Parker maintained Premier Inn is still outperforming the wider hotel sector, which has suffered a 11 per cent drop in revenue per available room, compared to its eight per cent drop.