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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Whitbread investors to bag 350m
Costa Coffee shop interior
Whitbread toasted Costa Coffee's strong performance
Leisure group Whitbread has pledged to return 350m of proceeds from its recent hotel, pub and restaurant sales to shareholders.

The news came as it posted a 21% rise in pre-tax, pre-exceptional profits to 109.8m for the half year to 31 August.

Whitbread said strong sales at its Costa Coffee chain and budget Premier Travel Inn hotels boosted results.

It added that as well as awarding money to investors it would also be pumping 50m into its pension scheme.

Looking ahead the group said it would remain focussed on its four key businesses - Premier Travel Inn, Pub Restaurants, David Lloyd Leisure and Costa Coffee.

Strategic shift

Costa Coffee helped to drive profits with sales surging by 21%, while business was up 15% at the Premier Travel Inn chain.

This is a very different business to the Whitbread of two years ago
Alan Parker, Whitbread chief executive

The increases helped drive overall sales at the group up 8.6% to 696.5m, while like-for-like sales rose 2.6%.

Whitbread announced that it was now in talks about the possible sale of its TGI Friday's restaurants.

The company has undergone a major restructuring. In April this year the group sold its luxury Marriott hotels business to the Royal Bank of Scotland for 951.4m to concentrate on its more lucrative budget hotels.

Whitbread has also sold its interest in the Pizza Hut UK chain, and in a separate deal sold 239 freestanding Beefeater and Brewers Fayre sites to Mitchells & Butlers.

The sale was part of Whitbread's strategy to concentrate on pub restaurants sited close to its Premier Travel Inn hotels.

"This is a very different business to the Whitbread of two years ago and we have worked hard to put the foundations in place for sustainable growth," said chief executive Alan Parker.

"We have seen good performances across much of the group and, where there are still areas of the business that have performance challenges to address, we are confident that we have the management and the plans in place to drive operational excellence and disciplined expansion."

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