Upper Crust owner slumps to annual loss and warns of ongoing sales woes

Upper Crust and Caffe Ritazza owner SSP has warned sales are set to plunge by 80% in its first quarter after swinging to a hefty annual loss due to the pandemic.

The group – whose food and drink sites are based in airports and railway stations – crashed to a £425.8 million loss over the year to September 30 against pre-tax profits of £197.2 million the previous year.

SSP’s sites have been hit hard by plummeting passenger numbers and travel restrictions during the pandemic, with sales as much as 93% lower in its third quarter to the end of June.

This eased back slightly to an 80% drop in its final quarter as it reopened more than a third of its sites over the summer.

But tightening restrictions and further lockdowns since its year end saw it close stores again, with those open dropping to 950 worldwide currently, and it expects first-quarter sales to remain around 80% lower.

Passenger numbers are set to remain volatile throughout its first half, it said.

Shares in the group fell more than 4%.

Simon Smith, chief executive of SSP Group, said: “Whilst we expect passenger numbers to remain subdued over the winter, we are optimistic that alongside good progress with the vaccination programme, we will see a significant upturn in both domestic and international travel from the spring.

“We are ready to respond quickly.”

The group warned earlier this year that up to around 5,000 jobs are under threat – more than half of its 9,000-strong peak season workforce – as it looks to slash costs in response to the pandemic.

It was forced to temporarily close around 90% of its sites worldwide during the first wave of the pandemic, but opened more than a third – around 1,200 – units by the end of September as restrictions lifted.

It has since had to close sites once again as the second wave of the pandemic led to another lockdown in England and similar measures elsewhere across Europe.

Before the crisis struck, SSP served around one-and-a-half million customers every day at about 180 airports and 300 rail stations in 35 countries around the world.

It operated more than 550 brands across about 2,700 sites.