LONDON (Reuters) - British pubs and brewery group Greene King (GNK.L) reported a higher first-half pretax profit, benefiting from an upturn in trading as consumers struggling to cope with economic pressures sought solace in their local pub.
The 212-year-old Suffolk based firm, which has 2,410 pubs, said the consumer environment remained challenging with cost inflation rising ahead of wage inflation and discretionary spending being squeezed.
"In this environment, the on-trade drinking out and eating out markets are performing well, delivering an 'everyday indulgence' to the UK consumer," the company said.
Britain's pub sector is providing a rare bright spot among the economic gloom, with Marston (MARS.L), Mitchells & Butlers (MAB.L), Young's (YNGa.L) and Fuller's (FSTA.L) reporting rising sales and profits.
Greene King, whose chains include Hungry Horse, Old English Inns and Bellhaven, said on Thursday pretax profit before exceptional items rose by 5.6 percent to 77.2 million pounds in the first half to October 16.
Numis analyst Douglas Jack had forecast a 7 percent rise to 78 million pounds.
Pubs are benefiting from increasing demand for casual dining as customers trade down from eating out at restaurants.
Greene King said drink sales had risen by 9.9 percent with food sales up 16.3 percent.
Shares in Greene King, which have outperformed the FTSE All Share Travel & Leisure Index .FTASX5750, by 8 percent over the past year, closed on Wednesday at 483 pence, valuing the company at around 1 billion pounds.
(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; editing by James Davey)