Whitbread, the leisure group, has reported a 15.2% rise in underlying profit for the six months to 1 September, with Costa once again leading the growth in a “variable” trading environment. Underlying profit before tax for the group was £174.9m (2010.2011: £151.8m) on revenue up 10.7% to £891.3m. Like-for-like sales were up 3.3% in the half year. Profit after tax and exceptional items for the half year was £159.2m (2010/2011: £116m). In Costa, underlying profits were up 41.8% to £27.8m, delivering a return on capital of 28.5% (2010/2011: 35.6%). Worldwide system sales were up 23.3% to £383.6m, while like-for-like UK store sales increased 6.7%. Whitbread highlighted the success of the Ice Cold Costa range, which delivered a 44% increase in revenue to £12.4m, “benefitting from an extended sales period and new drinks flavours”. And its Costa Light brand, introduced in August, already accounts for 1-2% of coffee sales. There has been a 20% uplift in sales at former Coffee Nation units, bought by Whitbread in March, after they are rebranded to Costa Express, Whitbread said. The company expects to rebrand over 500 existing Coffee Nation units during 2011/2012 and added a further 250 Costa Express systems in the UK. Overall, there was a net increase of 85 Costa stores in the UK, and 47 internationally, during the period. In the Hotels and Restaurants arm, underlying profits were up 8.5% to £167.1m, delivering a return on capital of 12.5%. However, revenue in its restaurants was up by a more modest 0.5% to £248.5m. Like-for-like sales in the restaurants were down 1.6% "in an increasingly value-driven market". In Premier Inn, total sales increased 10.6% and like-for-like sales were up 5.2%. Like-for-like revpar was up 4.4% to £44.49, up 11.4% in London and 3% in the provinces, due to its “dynamic pricing” structure. Twelve new hotels and five restaurants were opened in the period. Meanwhile, the interim dividend was up 55.6% to 17.5p, with underlying EPS up 17.8% to 72.2p. Andy Harrison, chief executive of Whitbread, said: “Whitbread traded well in the first half with a 10.7% growth in sales and a 15.2% increase in underlying profits. “Our strong brands, supported by customer driven commercial actions, are providing winning customer propositions. We are continuing to grow our business and this year we plan to open 4,000 new Premier Inn rooms and 14 new restaurants in the UK, together with 300 Costa stores worldwide. “This is another step towards our five year growth milestones which will grow Premier Inn UK by almost 50% to 65,000 rooms and increase the Costa network by 75% to 3,500 stores worldwide, together with at least 3,000 Costa Express machines. We believe this expansion, supported by like for like sales growth, should create substantial shareholder value. “Our overall first half sales performance is the best guide to the Group’s underlying trading, although on a month by month basis trading continues to be variable in a challenging consumer environment. The first half performance puts us on track to deliver full year results in line with expectations.”