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Biz Briefing: Porridge Powers Pret Profits

(c) Sky News 2011

Sandwich chain Pret A Manger has hailed the humble bowl of porridge as being key to a 17% sales rise over the last year.

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The retailer added hot porridge to its offerings in spring 2010, and now sells 50,000 bowls a week.

Pret's pre-tax profits rose by 37% to £46.1m and it plans to open further outlets this year.

Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, Clive Schlee, chief executive of Pret A Manger said the company planned to open 30 new shops around the world in the coming year, creating 700 new jobs, 500 of which will be in the UK.

He admitted, however, that the company had expanded too quickly in the past.

"I've seen the consequences of international expansion and we've learned a lot," he said. 

"We're taking it much more slowly, much more steadily, making sure each shop is profitable before we open another one."

:: A group of Britain's top business leaders has called on the Government to recognise the importance of good airports to economic growth.

In a letter to The Times, 74 chief executives, chairmen or senior executives from industry, finance and the service sector say Britain needs a plan "to secure the UK's international connectivity".

They wrote: "Our main airports - particularly in the South East - are blighted by overstretched infrastructure, where the slightest disruption results in thousands of passengers queuing in the terminal and dozens of aircraft circling overhead."

:: Thomas Cook says the rate of summer holiday booking has "slowed noticeably in the UK as a result of continued economic uncertainty".

Its (Paris: FR0010370163 - news) summer 2011 programme is currently 55% booked, which is 1% off last year, but the capacity has been decreased to last year's level due to the "continuing tough trading environment".

Unrest in Egypt and Tunisia continues to hit the travel firm's business, with costs estimated at £15m in lost margin and £5m in repatriation expenses.

:: Investment firm Man Group (LSE: EMG.L - news) reports statutory pre-tax profit of £175m, down from £337m last year, following 12 months in which the firm was "fundamentally reshaped".

Man Group also noted there was an "extraordinary concentration of macro shocks" in March, chiefly the Japanese quake, which affected its performance.

:: Merlin Entertainments, which operates sites such as The London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers, saw a rise in visitors of 2.5 million to take it to 41 million for the year.

The firm reported a pre-tax profit of £26m in the year to December 25, 2010 - from a loss of £13.7m in 2009.