Greene King still buoyant on smoking ban

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Greene king

The chief executive of ale brewer Greene King said he remained
"cautiously optimistic" that a pub smoking ban in Scotland
would benefit the group over the long-term.

His comments came as Greene King announced a 2.6 per cent drop in like-for-like sales at its Belhaven pub chain in Scotland for the 24 weeks ended 15 October.

The loss was, however, better than the brewer had predicted in light of the pub smoking ban introduced in Scotland this March. Belhaven profits rose eight per cent during the period.

Greene King's confidence again offers hope to brewers and pub companies fearful of what may happen when the smoking is extended to England and Wales next year.

"We see a major opportunity to attract back people who have stopped going to pubs, and to attract more of key segments, especially families and women,"​ said Greene King chief executive, Rooney Anand.

He said the group had accelerated plans to offer more food in pubs and was using initiatives like 'Operation Clean & Fresh' to improve pub atmosphere.

More than 95 per cent of Greene King pubs also have outside space for smokers to huddle in.

The group has continued to devour smaller rivals in the last 24 weeks, signing a deal in September to buy Hardys & Hansons, a brewer and pub operator based near Nottingham.

Several beer brands will be retained, although it was unclear which ones, and production will be moved south to Bury St Edmunds at the end of December - prompting more outcries from the Campaign for Real Ale group.

It pleaded with Greene King to listen to real ale drinkers and to make sure Hardys and Hansons beers were not replaced by Greene King blockbusters, such as IPA or Old Speckled Hen.

Plans have not yet emerged, but that may be a boost these brands need after a difficult 24 weeks over the summer.

The FIFA World Cup helped many of the big brewers to bolster UK sales in June, despite a dismal performance from the England football team, but unfortunately for Greene King the event also pulled consumers away from ale and on to lager.

The firm's ale volumes dipped one per cent during the period, although brand market share improved slightly.

Total group sales rose 16 per cent to £419m, with pre-tax profit up 20 per cent at £67m.

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