Family brewer and pub operator, Robinsons, has reported like-for-like sales (lfls) in its tenanted division up 3.1% in 2017, with its currently 11-strong managed growing lfls by 15.6%.

The group, which owns 260 pubs in total, increased turnover during the year ending 31 December 2017 by 4.2%, to £71.2m. Profit before tax fell by 19% to £3.1m.

The company spent around £9.7m in 2017 on capital expenditure with significant investments carried out at 31 pubs. During the year, 27 were disposed of. Joint managing director William Robinson told MCA earlier this year that after several years of churning its estate, the company’s disposal programme was now largely finished. He said this had created a strong platform for future investment, with three new pubs acquired during the year.

He added: “In addition to our long-term strategy to invest in our pubs, to ensure we maintain the high standards we are setting, we will also continue to develop our exceptional licensee support package, be that through projects such as the Greener Retailing research project we carried out in association with The Centre for Enterprise at MMU, the group purchasing arrangements we have created over the past 10 years, the apprenticeship and training programmes we have developed to support our licensees, digital innovation to drive loyalty and footfall, or more recently the review of the role of our Business Development Managers. These are all intended to support sustainable growth for the future prosperity of the company.”

On the headwinds facing the group, he said: “Beer Duty and business rate increases are a significant burden for both licensees, and ourselves, and we encourage the Chancellor in the forthcoming budget to increase his support for ‘physical retailers’, both pubs and the high street, by addressing the disproportionate and unfair taxation placed on them versus online retailing. In the year 2017, we paid £9.4m in Beer Duty. We are actively backing the BBPA ‘Long Live the Local’ campaign, encouraging our customers, staff and licensees to write to their MPs about the great work that British pubs do to support their communities, and the combined impact that Beer Duty and business rates have upon confidence and investment in the Great British pub.

“Beyond these issues there’s increased competition and, of course, the potential challenges and opportunities that Brexit may bring. Thus, while the market conditions in which we operate in have been tough, our business is robust, and we are both optimistic and vigilant for the future.”

Managing Director (Beer Division), Oliver Robinson, said: “Despite strong sales across all our business, margins continue to be challenging in all areas of the business as we continue to see above inflationary cost increases. We continue to work closely with our suppliers and customers to make sure where possible we minimise any increase to our very loyal customer base.”

We operate in a challenging and competitive market, where customers want both value and quality, but we have adapted well to changes in brewing demand and styles as we reinvigorate our beer strategy and offer greater variety and choice for our customers. Our range of excellent quality beers won no less than 20 esteemed awards in 2017 and our brew house had its busiest year since we opened it in 2012. Trends in the beer market are dictating that a greater number of beers and styles are required to satisfy our customers and consequently an increase in 60-barrel brew lengths have been requested rather than the traditional 120-barrel brew lengths.

“Over the past three years, we’ve also been working hard to implement an ambitious growth plan for Free Trade, Off Trade, Wholesale and Export – which appears to be paying off. Total volume in external sales again hit a new high with the increase in volume coming from the Off Trade and Free Trade. Own brands continue to grow and were supported by the joint venture we have with the Co-op. Trading proved more challenging in national sales due to a nationwide decline in the cask beer market and some historic customers focusing on their own brands rather than supporting a portfolio of guest ales. Export also proved challenging in what has become a crowded market.

“We are evolving with the market and our craft beers such as Beardo and Mojo are proving a great conduit to expand our portfolio within the Off Trade and helps us drive our core packaged brands. Our seasonal beers offer us range and variety and our “White Label” beers offer a point of difference to our tenanted, managed and free trade cask customers. Our own range of craft keg is evolving but our focus remains on our core cask brands.”

“In addition, our bespoke wine range has yet again set a high standard nationally with more awards won in 2017 for its collective range than any other wine supplier nationally.”

“The outlook for 2018 is in many ways similar to 2017: we will continue to invest in the long-term success of our business whilst looking to maximise returns through operational efficiency. We are committed and prepared for many more generations of family brewing and pub ownership and our investment strategy should be seen as a sign of that.”