John Thornton, chairman and chief executive, said the result reflected a recovery in margins, which were depressed last year by the costs of developing Select chocolates and restyling its Continental range. Operating margins in the six months to 8 January were 17.2 per cent, up from 14.9 per cent.
The group has also benefited from management changes implemented last year which, Mr Thornton said, had improved efficiency. While there were no job cuts, the group has worked hard at improving systems to ensure that stock hits the shops at the right time.
Sales at Christmas were strong, helping the group to achieve a 10.5 per cent increase in sales to pounds 54.2m. In Britain, sales rose 4.1 per cent, excluding the effect of the 46 new outlets opened during the period.
In France, losses were cut to pounds 93,000 from pounds 846,000 as the group implemented the restructuring programme announced last year. That has involved closing half the shops and concentrating on the 20 shops around Paris.
The group provided pounds 7.6m for the French restructuring last year, of which pounds 3.6m was used in the first half.
Earnings per share were 9.82p, up from 7.38p last time, and the interim dividend goes up by 0.2p to 1.45p. The shares gained 6p to 198p.Reuse content