Marston’s saw like-for-like sales (lfls) across its managed and franchised pubs grow 2.2% in the 26 weeks to 30 March, with a 3.2% hike in the final 10 weeks of the period.

Its 408-strong Destination and Premium arm lfls grew 1.2%, with total revenue up 2.4% to £215.7m. In the Taverns portfolio of 1,143 pubs, lfls were stronger at 3.9% (for the managed and franchised sites within the division), as were overall sales, which grew 4% to £154.2m.

In its brewing arm, total revenue increased 8.3% to £183.2m, with own-brewed and licensed volumes up 4% and operating margins stabilising following the Charles Wells acquisition in 2017.

Statutory revenue for the group increased 4.7% to £553.1m in H1, with a pre-tax profit of £19.1m compared to a loss of £13.4m last year.

The group stressed that it remained cautious on expansion, targeting a reduction in new-build investment to £25m per annum from 2020, but said it still expected to add nine pubs and bars to the Destination & Premium division and four new-build lodges. It said the integration of the 15 pubs bought from Aprirose earlier this year had gone smoothly, with £4m invested in the estate post-acquisition.

During the period, Marston’s generated £29.4m from disposals, including £23.3m of leasing transactions. Total disposal proceeds of £45m to £50m are expected for 2019, which is broadly in line with last year.

The group is targeting £120m disposal proceeds over the period 2020-2023

Marston’s strategy continues to involve an investment in premiumisation with a focus on “everyday value” with recent menu launches focussing on “rhythm of the week” offers. It is estimated that this strategy requires around £2m of margin investment on an annualised basis but the company stressed it was already resulting in an improvement in cover trends.

During the period, Marston’s stockpiled several core lines in preparation for a disorderly Brexit, meaning stock levels are currently £6m higher that the same time last year.

Net debt at the period end was £1.44bn. Excluding property leases with freehold reversion entitlement, the ratio of net debt to underlying EBITDA was 4.8 times at the period end.

Chief executive Ralph Findlay said: “I am pleased to report continued growth across all segments of the business. Our Taverns wet-led community pubs have built on the strong trading performance last year and it is particularly encouraging to see our food-led pubs once again achieving increasing momentum in profitable like-for-like sales growth. Our leading Brewing business goes from strength to strength, winning new distribution contracts and continuing to grow market share.

“We remain focussed on our strategic objectives and good progress has been made with our stated aim to improve cash generation and reduce the Group’s leverage. Whilst the backdrop of ongoing uncertainty around Brexit continues to be challenging, opportunities for growth remain and we are confident of delivering another year of profitable growth for our shareholders.”