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Upper Crust owner SSP's sales at pre-pandemic levels, Britain lags

FILE PHOTO: A view shows an Upper Crust at Victoria Station in London

By Sinchita Mitra

(Reuters) -Snack chain group SSP said average sales rose above pre-pandemic levels in the first eight weeks of its new financial year, but sales in Britain were still below 2019.

Upper Crust owner SSP, which operates in airports and train stations in more than 30 countries, said on Tuesday it expects overall sales in its British business to be back to pre-crisis levels by the end of its 2023 financial year.

SSP Finance Director Jonathan Davies said strikes which have hit Britain's railways, which represent the biggest part of its domestic business, took 2-3 percentage points off overall sales.

The group returned to profit in the year ended Sept. 30, reporting an underlying core profit of 142 million pounds ($173 million), from a loss of 108.3 million pounds a year earlier, helped by a recovery in air travel across most of its markets.

"Business travel (recovery) by air is faster than rail, since people are still not back to office at same levels," Davies told Reuters after SSP reported its 2022 results and said it still expects core profit to broadly return to 2019 levels by 2024.

SSP said revenues on average were at 104% of 2019 levels in the first eight weeks of its October to December quarter, with North America and Continental Europe tracking above, but its British business, which makes up about 28% of its total revenue, lagged behind at 84% of pre-crisis levels.

Shares in SSP were up 2.9% by 1003 GMT after it reported total revenue of 2.19 billion pounds for the year ending on Sept. 30, sharply higher than last year's 834.2 million pounds.

Davies said SSP was trying to mitigate the impact of inflation by changing some menu items and by raising prices.

($1 = 0.8212 pounds)

(Reporting by Sinchita Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Alexander Smith)