Body Shop grows fat on slimmer sales

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Poor Christmas sales on the high street were again in evidence yesterday as The Body Shop reported a fall in like-for-like sales of 5 per cent over the past 10 weeks.

But the beauty products retailer said it had learned from the mistakes of Christmas past and had not succumbed to major price discounting to bolster sales.

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the company founded by Anita Roddick in 1976, said margins over the quarter were "significantly" better than the same period last year. "We saw a lot of discounting in the marketplace over Christmas," Mr Saunders said. "But we knew it was important not to."

The UK market has proved the most difficult for The Body Shop and like-for-like sales fell 16 per cent in the 10 weeks to 3 January, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The company has faced increasing competition in the health and beauty sector from supermarkets, but Mr Saunders said The Body Shop was standing firm as a specialist retailer. "We position ourselves and our products above what is on offer in the supermarkets. We offer customers something unique and we will be communicating that through our stores," he said.

Less than a quarter of The Body Shop's business comes from the UK, and weak sales here were offset by a strong performance in the US and Asia.

Mr Saunders said the company expects to meet market forecasts for the full year. Shares closed up more than 2 per cent at 124.5p.