Marston’s has this morning spoken of continuing improving trends in each of its divisions. In an interim statement the brewer and pub operator said managed house like-for-like sales had improved in the 11 weeks of the second half – ahead 2.7%. Year to date like-for-like sales - in the 43 weeks to the end of July - were 1.7% ahead, with comparable food sales up 2.5% and drink sales up 1.3%. It also saw margins improve 0.6% in the second half at the 488-strong division, which it expected to be maintained through to the year end. The firm said its new-build pub programme was on track, with 11 sites open and four in the later stages of construction. As previously announced, 15 would open in the current financial year and it planned to open 20 in 2011. Marston’s said that the performance of the 11 sites currently open was ahead of its targets, both in terms of sales and returns. At the group’s 1,671-strong leased pub arm like-for-like profits were down 4.0% in the 43 weeks to 31 July, an improvement from the 4.5% the company reported at its interims in May. It said 86% of the estate was let on substantive agreements. It had now signed up 88 operators to its new retail agreement, with plans to grow this to 100 by yearend. At the beer division, which makes a range of beers under the Marston’s, Brakspear, Jennings, and Ringwood brands, own-brewed volumes “were in line with last year demonstrating continued out-performance compared to the UK beer market”, which declined 6%. Concluding, the group said: “Following the emergency budget in June we remain cautious about the consequential impact on consumer confidence. However, we are encouraged by our recent trading performance.” “Our focus on value for money, high-quality pubs and local beers combined with clearly defined strategies for each of our trading divisions place us in a strong position to meet the forthcoming challenges.”