Party time lifts spirits at The Body Shop

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The Independent Online

The Body Shop's answer to the erstwhile Tupperware party helped it to exorcise ghosts of Christmas past yesterday when it revealed its UK sales had risen over the festive period.

The Body Shop's answer to the erstwhile Tupperware party helped it to exorcise ghosts of Christmas past yesterday when it revealed its UK sales had risen over the festive period.

The group's 3 per cent increase in underlying sales over the 10 weeks to 1 January confounded expectations, including its own.

It predicted profits would top market forecasts after its attempts to take the brand upmarket paid off. In the UK, like-for-like sales over the Christmas period climbed for the first time in five years, rising 5 per cent.

Shares in the company, which fell out of favour under the leadership of its founder, Dame Anita Roddick, leapt 4.75p to 165p.

Peter Saunders, the chief executive, said 28 per cent more people had signed up for one of its The Body Shop at Home parties over Christmas. Like the Tupperware of old, the evening gives a budding hostess the opportunity to host a party for her girlfriends - and make some money.

"It's a fun evening. It's popular because The Body Shop is such a trusted brand. You're not going to let just anyone into your home," he said.

Over the first 10 months of its financial year, the "At Home" division, which also operates in the US and Asia, grew its sales by 34 per cent. It had £21.5m of sales at the group's half-year stage - or 7 per cent of global retail sales.

"We would expect it to continue to grow at a significant rate because the opportunity is there," Mr Saunders added.

The group's progress encouraged analysts, despite its weak year-on-year UK comparisons. Rhys Williams, at Seymour Pierce, said: "If, as we believe, The Body Shop has finally got its operation, store environment and product right, one could see a strong recovery in the UK, which will drive forward the group's profitability." The brokerage expects the group to report pre-tax profits of £36m this year and £42m next year.

Seasonal Cranberry and Chocolate Orange-scented ranges helped to lift sales over Christmas. The only blip was the US, where underlying sales slipped 1 per cent. Asia was the group's star performer, with a 7 per cent increase in comparable sales.

Across the group, underlying sales are 1 per cent stronger since the start of its financial year, although in the UK they are still 1 per cent lower.

Dame Anita and her husband started the group, which has always espoused ethical trading principles, in 1976. She ran the group until 1998, and four years later stepped down as co-chairman, along with her husband. The couple's fortune is still largely tied up with the group via their 15 per cent stake.

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