Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries (W&DB), the brewer and pub operator, has announced it intends to change its name to Marston’s. The company said the change would reflect the national nature of the business, demonstrated by the growth of its Marston’s brands and the development of its pub estate across the country. Ralph Findley, chief executive, said: “The change in name also represents an opportunity to emphasise our tradition, heritage and values, and to better promote our pubs across the country.” The group will seek approval for the change at an extraordinary general meeting on 8 January next year. The news came as W&DB reported a 13.2% in full-year underlying pre-tax profit to £101.5m, while turnover increased by 7.1% to £595.5m. It said that it had actively explored a number of acquisition opportunities during the year but believed the high price levels in the sector limited the opportunity to create value for shareholders. The company said it would continue to explore acquisition opportunities, with a strong balance sheet and good cash flow allowing it to move quickly and decisively when required. The group said that current trading has been strong, with its performance in the eight weeks to 25 November in line with expectations. Like-for-like sales in its Pathfinder Pubs were ahead 9.1% on the same eight weeks in 2005. W&DB also said it intends to return around £100m to shareholders during its new financial year, subject to acquisitions. In Pathfinder Pubs, the company’s managed division, like-for-like sales were 2.4% ahead of last year, with good summer weather and the World Cup contributing to second half-year like-for-like sales growth of 3.7%. Turnover increased by 4.2% to £330.7m, while underlying profit margin was 19.2%, on a 0.3% rise in underlying operating profit to £63.5m. The company opened 26 new Pathfinder Pubs during the year taking the company’s managed estate to 459 sites, with around 20 openings planned for next year. The group invested a total of £34.2m on pub refurbishment during the year, including a number of pubs it acquired from the Wizard estate in 2004. Its Pitcher & Piano brand, comprising 28 sites performed strongly, with a new site opened in Taunton during the year, and four bars re-opened after refurbishment. Since the year-end the company has opened a new Pitcher & Piano in Brighton and acquired sites for conversion in Derby and Poole. The group also added three new bars trading as Bluu, its premium food and late night venue brand, in Nottingham, Manchester and Hoxton Square, London. In the Union Pub Company, the company’s tenanted division, turnover increased by 16.6% to £178.8m. Underlying operating margin increased by 2.4% to 44.9%, and underlying operating profit rose by 23.3% to £80.3m. Average profit per pub increased by 5.0% to £57,400 per pub per year. The Union estate, which stands at 1,893, includes 63 of the 70 Celtic Inns it acquired in March for £43.3m, and 93 smaller pubs it transferred from Pathfinder in the second half of the year. The group said that these 93 sites had been well integrated. Total capital expenditure for the group during the year was £98.9m, of which £60.6m was spent in Pathfinder Pubs, and £27.2m in its Union estate. This included an increased spend of £18.3m on new site development within Pathfinder. The company said it generated £36.8m from the sale of 33 pubs, various unlicensed properties and surplus pieces of land during the 12 months. Turnover at the company’s brewing business increased by 0.7% to £86.0m, while underlying profit increased by 1.1% to £18m. The company said that its market share of the premium ale market increased by nearly 1%, with volume up 3%. It said that Marston’s Old Empire had performed particularly well, up 9.5%, with Jennings Cumberland Ale up 12%.