PizzaExpress targets Europe for restaurant rollout

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PizzaExpress, the restaurant chain, will open 50 new restaurants this year as it accelerates its opening programme in the UK and abroad.

The company, which has 331 restaurants in 17 countries, is to target France and Spain in an attempt to replicate the rollout it has achieved in the UK. It plans to increase its estate to 500 units over the next seven to eight years. David Page, the chairman, said the chain expects to weather any recession. He said experience in previous downturns had shown that: "People trade down from more expensive restaurants to us."

Analysts, however, were more cautious after recent trading figures showed that like-for-like sales in July and August were up only 4 per cent. This came after a 10 per cent like-for-like gain in sales at the group's pizza restaurants in the UK and Ireland in the year to 30 June.

The group, which owns the 13-strong Café Pasta chain, said the success of its retail division had "exceeded expectations" since it started selling chilled ready-made pizzas in Sainsbury's in January.

Mr Page said: "We can't keep up with demand." He expects sales to increase from 100,000 a week to 195,000 as the company increases its manufacturing capacity. Pre-tax profits within the retail division, which includes sales of salad dressing, olive oil and salad, more than doubled to £0.7m on sales of £1.5m.

Yesterday, PizzaExpress reported a 24 per cent increase in full-year, pre-tax profit to £40m on sales also up 24 per cent to £185m. It shares slipped 7.5p to close at 905p.