• PizzaExpress still plagued by tourism declines

LONDON -- PizzaExpress reported an 18 percent drop in profits to £17.8 million (U.S. $28.9 million) for the six-month period ended Dec. 31.

In a release, the 311-store company blamed tough competition from the pub sector and negative sales at its inner-city London outlets for its ongoing performance declines.

Sales for the period were £100.2 million (U.S. $163 million), down 4.8 percent compared to the same period last year.

Within the M25, the beltway surrounding the core of London, sales were off 10 percent and operating profits dropped to £17.1 million (U.S. $27.8 million) compared to £21.5 million (U.S. $35 million) a year earlier. Chief executive David Page said sales at restaurants not dependent upon tourists (particularly those outside London and in Scotland and Ireland) remained strong.

PizzaExpress believes its newly broadened menu and larger pizzas introduced late last year will help invigorate sales.

The chain is amid an £11 million (U.S. $17.9 million) spending effort to freshen decor at some London units. The release said that initial results are encouraging.

Sales of PizzaExpress frozen pies in grocery stores rose 37 percent to £2.6 million (U.S. $4.2 million).

The company said it hopes to discuss soon the status of a handful of takeover bids it received in recent months. Suitors rumored to be bidding for the company include its current management team, led by Page, as well as Luke Johnson, who helped take the company public in 1993.

* See related stories:
PizzaExpress executive directors consider bid for company
PizzaExpress boosts pie sizes amid customer complaints of shrinkage

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