Marston’s, the brewer and pub group, has this morning revealed like-for-like sales growth at its managed pub arm of 2.1% in the 16 weeks to 22 January, driven by food sales up 4.4% and wet sales up 1.2% on a like-for-like basis. The group, led by Ralph Findlay, said that like-for-like sales in the division were flat in the six weeks to 8 January, while the 12-day Christmas key trading window – between 23 December and 3 January – produced like-for-like sales growth of 11.2%, helped by soft comparisons in the same period the previous year. In an interim management statement, the group said operating margins were slightly ahead of last year. Marston's had opened two new build pub restaurants in 2011 with eight more in the process of being built. It expected to open 20 such pubs in 2011 and 25 in 2012. At the group’s tenanted and leased pub arm, underlying profits were improving thanks to its introduction of a franchise-style lease. Like-for-like profits in the division were estimated to be around 1% down on last year for the 16 weeks to 22 January — comparing favourably with a 4% decline for the full financial year 2010. Its Retail Agreement was now live in 160 pubs. Under the agreement licensees typically earn 20% of turnover to pay themselves and staff with Marston’s buying everything centrally and paying all other bills. The model allows licensees to focus on maximising sale and motivating staff without administration and purchasing price distractions. It hopes to operate 600 pubs under this lease within three years. Own-brewed volumes were up 6% across the period on last year against a UK ale market down around 7%. "Our focus on localness and premium ale continues to drive growth, with premium cask ale up 4% and bottled ale up 20% in the period," it said. Findlay, chief executive, said: "We are encouraged by our performance to date, with the growth in like-for-like sales demonstrating the appeal and resilience of our offers despite the challenges presented by the weather in December. “We are confident that our continued focus on offering our consumers value for money in high quality pubs, together with sector-leading shares in the growth segments of the beer market, places us in a strong position for the future.”