Pizza chain ups profits and targets expansion

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The Independent Online
PIZZA EXPRESS, the pizza and pasta chain, said yesterday it would double its number of outlets and expand abroad after announcing a solid improvement in full-year results.

Ian Eldridge, the chief executive, said he plans to open 30 to 35 new restaurants a year for the next five years to meet the target of 400 owned UK outlets. On 30 June the group had 220 company-owned restaurants and three franchised outlets in the UK and Ireland, and 14 franchises and one joint-venture business in 10 other countries.

Group pre-tax profits were up by 28 per cent at pounds 28.7m in theyear to 30 June, and turnover rose by 27 per cent to pounds 126.6m. Like-for-like sales for the UK and Ireland were up by 2.1 per cent and international sales up by 25 per cent.

David Page, the chairman, said: "The extra sales were gained despite a downturn in consumer confidence during the period and ever-present competition."

Mr Eldridge said he did not feel threatened by the challenge from rival chains such as Ask and Caffe Uno. "It keeps us on our toes."

Pizza Express has tripled its outlets in three years. It opened its first international franchise in Limassol, Cyprus, in June 1997 and now has restaurants in France, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Russia, Turkey and the US.

Mr Eldridge said Spain was "an obvious target" for expansion, and he hoped "one day" to open in Italy. He said the company would continue to develop its Cafe Pasta chain, launched six months ago in the UK.

The company has proposed a 28 per cent increase in its final dividend to 4.1p.

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