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The Hut Group upbeat on first quarter after profit jumps on pandemic-led online demand

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(Reuters) - British e-commerce company The Hut Group said on Thursday its first quarter was ahead of expectations, after adding nearly 11 million new customers in 2020 thanks to a pandemic surge in demand for beauty and nutrition products.

In its maiden set of annual results since market listing in September, the company operating retail brands such as Lookfantastic and skin care group ESPA posted a 36% jump in annual underlying profit to 45.5 million pounds ($62.74 million).

E-commerce players have seen a surge in online sales during repeated lockdowns across the United Kingdom, as customers shopped for everything from groceries and essentials to fashion and footwear online.

THG added 10.7 million new customers during the reported period, with the number of orders for nutrition and beauty products rising 41% and 58%, as online buying let customers discover products through curated content.

However, it posted an operating loss of 481.8 million pounds due to non-cash charges largely related to vesting of share options schemes post listing.

Shares in THG were down 2.4% at 687 pence by 0720 GMT. The stock is still trading 37% higher than its IPO price of 500 pence.

THG's flagship platforms continue to enjoy impressive growth, with the 2020 new customers continuing to display high levels of stickiness, Jefferies analysts said in a note.

Revenue jumped 42% to 1.6 billion pounds in the year to December, and the company stuck to its 2021 revenue outlook of 30%-35% higher than 2020, underpinned by recent acquisitions.

"Management's purpose for the IPO was to step change THG's access to funding in order to capitalise on COVID-19 accelerated market changes," Chief Executive Matthew Moulding said.

Since the IPO, the company has acquired five companies, including two U.S. skincare brands, Perricone and Dermstore.com. It said on Thursday it would increase bolt-on acquisition spending to around 250 million pounds.

Moulding, in September, told the board he would not seek to profit from his employment at The Hut Group, and committed to donating 100 million of THG's shares to his charity foundation.

($1 = 0.7252 pounds)

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Christopher Cushing)