But it’s not just the rain washing profits down the drain. A raft of one-off costs have also hit M&B’s bottom line: £26m in just six months. Some £13m from rising food and energy costs, while £6m was spent on legal and advisory fees, fighting off two Piedmont takeover attempts last year. Well, you know what they say about litigation? You go in a pig and come out a sausage.
Otherwise, food and drink sales are broadly up: M&B’s 1,600 restaurants and pubs, including O’Neill’s and Toby Carvery, sold 3.4% more grub and 2.2% more booze. And the spend per head is also up. The average M&B customer is forking out 4.2% more on food than this time last year and 6.2% more on drink. But the company insists that had Blighty been blessed with glorious weather, these figures would look even sunnier.
Profit aside, the solid sales growth, coupled with M&S’s distinct lack of structure in the executive team, has made the company a tasty target for takeover attempts. There have been some 30 boardroom changes over the past three years. CEO Adam Fowle was unceremoniously ousted last year, and interim chief exec Jeremy Blood stepped down back in October. After which, Piedmont, the company’s biggest shareholder with a 25.7% stake, launched those failed takeover bids back in November.
M&B’s hunt for a new leader is nearly at its end, however: the shortlist has been whittled down to two candidates. ‘It’s about getting the right person in place and I believe that we are almost there,’ says M&B executive chairman Bob Ivell. ‘But I don’t think that the business has suffered from not having a [permanent] chief executive.’ If you say so, Bob.