Carluccio’s, the operator of the eponymous Italian restaurant and food-shop concept, has this morning unveiled underlying profits (ebitda) up 20% to £3.6m, on sales ahead 19% to £30.9m, for the six months to 23 March, 2008. The company said it had made good progress in the period and that its unique model meant it was well positioned for current trading conditions, which were likely to remain challenging, given the publicised pressures on the UK economy and on consumer spending. Stephen Gee, chairman, said: “Our business model is multi-faceted and should prove beneficial in such times. We have created a unique offering in the casual dining sector by combining an affordable caffe where the average spend is £12 per head and a retail shop where the average spend is £8 per transaction.” Carluccio’s said it had opened four of its five planned openings already this year, taking its business to 37 restaurants, with “industry leading” cash return on cash invested (CROCI) averaging in excess of 60%. The fifth opening of the year would come in Cambridge later this month. Alongside Manchester and Stratford-upon-Avon, openings also included travel hubs Terminal 5 at Heathrow and St Pancras International. Two sites are secured in the pipeline for 2009 – in Bristol and Leicester. It said it thought that in the current economic climate there might be more opportunities to increase its opening programme. Simon Kossoff, managing director, told M&C: “Even though the consumer is behaving at the moment there are also significant cost pressures and we think it may be too much for some operators and independents, so we think there may be more sites becoming available that are appropriate for the Carluccio’s model.” It said its first franchised store, which opened in Dublin eight weeks ago, was performing well and that it was looking at other overseas franchise opportunities. On cost pressures, the company said it was holding margins. Kossoff said: “The complexity of the business is helping us. Beef prices are up significantly and we also have an issue with the Euro because of some of the products that was source from Italy.” Kossoff said the group had been able to manage costs through tweaking the product mix in its stores and by negotiating better terms with some suppliers. Restaurant rents as a percentage of sales were currently at 8.3%. The company did not disclose like-for-like sales but said this could change as it opened more stores. At a pre-tax level, profits were up 19% to £2.8m. Basic earnings per share were 3.3p, up 27% from 2.6p last time. The company announced that Sarah Murray, its longstanding head of operations, would step up to the board as operations director in June.