By Clyde Mooney

Supermarket giant Coles is believed to be seeking a partner to own and run its pub operations in a bid to turn around its ailing liquor division.

Coles has announced the sale of three of its 95 hotels with agent Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels as a litmus test for possible suitors.

The retailer has long desired to emulate the successful alternative model employed by rival Woolworths of having a specialist division such as Australian Leisure & Hospitality (ALH) operating the venues, backed by the expertise of veteran publican Bruce Mathieson.

The bundling of its liquor and hotels business with its supermarkets is dragging down the impressive bottom line of its convenience operations.

Owner Wesfarmers in November posted results that revealed its liquor and hospitality divisions grew by just 4 per cent in the second half of 2011, as compared with the 17 per cent growth achieved by its groceries business.

The pub sale comes after Coles last week announced a further re-shuffle of its liquor management team.

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The company has acquired 19 new bottleshops in the previous financial quarter, bringing the total to 886. It plans up to 80 new big-box outlets, but has not bought a new hotel in years.

The sale of the venues was incorrectly reported today to be expecting $22 million. Industry sources told TheShout that the figure will be closer to $30 million.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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