Franchised off-licence group Conviviality Retail today reported a near-14% increase in first-half profits, and said the second half would benefit from strong trading over the Christmas period.

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The company, which owns brands including Bargain Booze, Thoroughgoods and Wine Rack, together with Select Convenience which involves small food stores operated alongside Bargain Brooze outlets, said group profits before exceptional items grew by 13.6% in the 26 weeks to October 27 to £2.2million

Group revenues were 5.1% lower, at £183.7million, but like-for-like retail sales by franchisees were 1.5% up, which Conviviality said reflected a drive to improve the quality of its estate.

This saw the number of stores excluding Wine Rack, which was acquired in August − fall in line with expectations to 592, against 616 at the end of the previous year.

And the group, which floated on the AIM market last July and includes more than a dozen branches in East Anglia, added that retail sales for the two weeks to January 5 were 2.8% up on the previous year, including 21.8% growth for Wine Rack.

Chief executive Diana Hunter said “We are pleased to announce our first half year results as a listed company in what has been a period of considerable change for the business.”

She continued: “As anticipated store numbers and therefore revenues have reduced in the first half of this financial year; this reduction is in line with our expectations and is consistent with our aim of improving the quality of our store estate.

“Work is underway to build a strong pipeline of new stores in higher quality locations for both Bargain Booze and Wine Rack and convert this pipeline to drive sales growth in future years.”

And she added: “Our focus over this Christmas trading period has been to drive profitable sales for our franchisees and Conviviality. Performance in the two weeks to January 5 delivered strong like-for-like retail sales growth of 2.8%.

”The average sales per store increased year on year by 5.7% an encouraging indicator of the improving quality of the store estate.”

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