Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) acknowledged it was feeling the impact of a slowdown in consumer spending – after sales suffered at its Harvester restaurants. Tim Clarke said that overall food sales had slowed due to pressure on the Harvester brand, but said that he did not believe it was a general slowdown as the group’s value and premium food formats were trading strongly. Clarke said: “The slowdown in food was in the largest midmarket format, Harvester, due to the pressures felt by mortgaged families who have seen the greatest squeeze. It is not a trend per se, it is a specific issue.” He said that the company would try and boost the brand by relaunching the Harvester menu with a greater emphasis on value for money, echoing what the group did with Vintage Inns when sales declined. The comments came as M&B reported a 1.3% increase in same outlet like-for-like sales in the nine weeks to 20 September, with food sales up by 3.6%, a slight slowing compared with a 5.1% rise in the third quarter. The company’s drink sales moved back into positive growth, rising by 0.3%, up from a 0.2% decline in the previous quarter, as it won market share from its competitors. Clarke said: “Clearly the macro environment is tough, but we have seen market share gain sharply accelerate. Our aim is to balance the rate of market share gains against cyclical pressures.” In terms of rising costs, Clarke said that the group would respond to the challenges through continued productivity and cost efficiency measures, including initiatives such as staff productivity and training improvements, the roll out of a new stock control system, energy usage conservation and cuts in central support costs. He said that despite increasing food and drink prices by 0.8% during the year, M&B’s general approach was for its price rises to remain restrained, driven instead by volume and with a focus on value pricing margins. The company said that it needed to grow like-for-like sales by 3% in the coming year in order to stand still in terms of profit, and that while it believed its performance would benefit from additional market share gains, it was difficult to predict the full effect of a worsening consumer slowdown.