Zizzi-owner Azzurri Group narrows losses after Coco di Mama growth

The owner of the Zizzi and Ask Italian restaurant chains, Azzurri Group, reduced its losses and saw rising sales over the past year, despite a turbulent period for the UK dining sector.

The company said it has been boosted by the continued expansion of food-to-go brand Coco Di Mama in 2019, which was accelerated by the acquisition of rival Pod’s 13 high street sites.

Sales for the group increased by 7% year on year to £299.4 million on the back of the new openings, as well as like-for-like growth across each of its four brands, which also includes the Radio Alice pizza chain.

Azzurri, which was formed by the £250 million acquisition of Zizzi and Ask by Bridgepoint in 2015, narrowed its pre-tax losses to £16.3 million for the 12 months to June, compared with a £23.4 million loss last year.

It said 10 openings and 29 refurbishments over the period helped it remain confident despite “ongoing sector-wide challenges”.

During the year, rival Jamie’s Italian collapsed with the loss of 100 jobs, while fellow competitor Carluccio’s closed 34 sites as part of a restructuring plan in 2018.

Pizza Express creditors are also in tense talks regarding the future of the business as they look to shore up its debt-laden balance sheet.

Azzurri chief executive Steve Holmes said the company is “not immune” to the cost pressures besetting its industry rivals.

He said: “We built on last year’s momentum as a leading operator in the Italian casual dining sector and expanded our presence in the food-to-go market.

“We remain conscious of the current cost environment and continue to take a thoughtful approach to increased operational efficiencies.

“Against the continuing challenges in the UK, we have an exciting pipeline of conversions and refurbishments ahead and are focused on expanding our presence, particularly in the food-to-go market.”

He added that 2019 had been a transformational year for Coco di Mama, with the four former Pod sites which have already been turned into Coco di Mama units reporting “exceptional early trading”.