The Food & Drink Group this morning reported underlying profits of £2.7m for the full year, an increase of 134%. Like-for-sales from the core bar business increased by 4.5%, with sales increasing by 53% to £20.3m. The group, which owns the Jamies and Henry J Bean brands, recorded profit before tax, pre exceptionals and amortisation of goodwill up 204% to £1.3m The company, formerly known as the Hartford Group, saw gross margin increase to 75.2% from 74.3%. Like-for-like sales for the first 10 weeks of the new financial year were 5.6% ahead of last year, with all three divisions of the group delivering positive sales performance. The group added that that confirmed bookings for the Christmas trading period were substantially ahead of last year. The group is currently in the process of securing sites for the first phase of expanding the brand, focusing on the south east. James Kowszun, the group’s chief executive, said that the process of finding sites was becoming easier, having been unwilling to pay the high prices the sector has recently commanded. He added: “I have a feeling that the market might have peaked out a bit”. The group recently announced the disposal of its one remaining restaurant - Canyon in Richmond - for £1.2m, allowing it to focus on the core bar business. The group’s 13-strong bar division reported like-for-like sales growth of 6.5%, with total sales up by 38% to £9.3m, by acquisitions. At the group’s nine City wine bars, total sales declined 18.3% to £4.1m, with like-for-like sales down by 0.8% following the disposal of three sites last year and the surrender and short-term occupancy of Jamies, Philpot Lane. However, the group said that it had offset the drop with a 1.8% point improvement in Ebitda margin, driven by a small improvement in gross margin coupled with wage control. At Henry J Bean's, the brand saw total sales of £5.2m, on a like-for-like sales increase from the UK managed sites of 4.9%. The group added that franchise performance at the brand had been “strong”. The company said that it had seen an improvement in gross margins, driven by food and drink sales and improvements in efficiency and the supply-chain rather than via price increases, although this had yet to build Ebitda due to a policy of reinvestment. The group is currently overhauling the brand’s identity, including a review of the food offer and a roll-out of the new sound and visual media system that is being trialled at the flagship site in Chelsea. With 50% of its current estate including outside space, the company said it expected a positive outcome from the smoking ban in England due to come into force in July 2007. The group added that food sales accounted for 27% of total revenue with plans to upgrade the food offer in the new financial year.