Brewer of Banks's bitter aims for 'sweet spot in the pubs market' by shifting focus to women and families dining out on a budget
Marston's plans to sell 200 traditional pubs in the next year as it opens more restaurant-style pubs with greater appeal to families, women and older customers on a budget.
The brewer of Pedigree, Banks's bitter and Jennings Cumberland ale sold 388 "wet-led" pubs last year and opened 27 newly built pub-restaurants. It plans to used the £144m from pub sales to build at least a further 25 this year.
Marston's swung to a £59m pretax loss for the year ended 4 October from a £67.5m profit a year earlier, but it said the results had been affected by the pub disposals. Excluding £117m of one-time charges, profit fell 3.6% to £83m.
Ralph Findlay, Marston's chief executive, said: "We view the eating-out market in the UK, particularly for pubs, as attractive. There's a sweet spot in the market around pubs significantly improving their offer to families since the smoking ban was introduced. Menus, service and quality have got better at a price point people can afford."
He said the average spend per head on food at a Marston's pub-restaurant was £7, meaning customers could afford to dine out regularly. The market had grown partly because people had tightened their belts but the trend was here to stay, he added. "It's gone beyond thriftiness. People are not going to give up on seeking value for money when the economy improves."
Findlay says about a third of the pubs Marston's sells are bought by microbrewers as outlets for their beers, but the rest are converted for other uses, including into supermarket convenience stores.
The new financial year had started well, Marston's said, with like-for-like sales at pub-restaurants and Pitcher & Piano bars up 2%. Sales of beer were up on a year ago, boosted by demand for Hobgoblin bitter at Halloween.
Marston's increased its annual dividend by 5% to 6.7p per share. The company's shares rose 1% to 146p in Thursday morning trading.
Marston's says the average spend per head on food at its pub-restaurants is £7, meaning customers could afford to dine out regularly. Photograph: Reuters