Homeserve Profits Rise

Home maintenance company Homeserve has posted a 13 per cent increase in annual profits on the back of strong growth in the UK and abroad.

The Walsall-based group, which insures households against broken boilers and burst water pipes, revealed pre-tax profits rose to £100.6 million for the year to Apro, compared to £88.7 million a year before.

Sales across the period rose by 21 per cent, to £369 million.

Homeserve’s chief executive Richard Harpin said the new financial year has started positively with all of its membership businesses performing in line with company expectations.

He added: “We are pleased to announce another year of strong growth with profit before tax increasing by 13 per cent to £100.6m and earnings per share by 14 per cent.

“This strong financial performance has been driven by an eight per cent increase in customers worldwide, with high levels of retention in all countries demonstrating the resilience of our business model.

“We have achieved our growth targets in the UK and internationally with our affinity partner households in the US doubling to over 20 million and the financial contribution from our international operations increasing by 72 per cent.”

Homeserve told investors that the number of policies sold rose to 10.3 million over the period, compared to 9.2 million in 2009 and the total number of customers increased to 4.7 million from 4.3 million.

Homeserve said it remains well positioned for the future and looks forward to another year of strong growth.

The group, which exited from UK Emergency Services, resulting in loss of £42.0 million in discontinued operations, posted a three per cent rise in customer growth in the UK and a retention rate of 82.5 per cent compared to 83 per cent in 2009.

International operating profits rose sharply to £8.7 million from £5.1 million the year earlier.

Revenues increased 31 per cent at its European business over the year while in the US revenue increased 41 per cent and policies grew 38 per cent.

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Midlands Vodka the Best

The world’s finest vodka is now made in the Midlands, according to the most esteemed spirits experts in the world. Graeme Brown spoke to the man behind the drink.

Few would have given him a shot, but a former crisp-maker from the Midlands who turned his hand to producing vodka has seen his tipple named the best in the world.

Chase Vodka, established by Herefordshire potato farmer William Chase, was named the world’s finest at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Mr Chase, the former boss of Tyrrells Crisps, accepted there had been a hint of discontent at a firm from an area better known for its cider-making triumphing over Russia’s 600-year vodka-making history.

In the days since winning the competition, Chase has seen demand rise more than 10-fold, but Mr Chase said that it would not herald a pursuit of more and more sales – the operation is set up to make 3,000 bottles a week and that will remain the maximum.

He believes the secret to the firm’s successes has been controlling production by keeping everything in-house.

He also said that using potatoes from his fields rather than wheat – used by many rivals – has set the operation aside.

He said: “Everyone else in the industry buys their potatoes in but when I started I thought making everything ourselves would be very important.

“People are getting more discerning about what they eat and drink and want more transparency about where it comes from.

“The first thing is the spuds. We can actually tell people with each bottle which field it comes from.”

He added: “The reason other people stopped making vodka out of potatoes is because you need so many spuds.

“The first time we made vodka we had an artic-load of spuds and there was only a few litres. You can get a bit more of a yield out of wheat but with the potatoes it has a natural sweetness.”

Chase emerged victorious from last week’s spirit’s competition after impressing a 30-strong panel of independent judges in a tasting under blind conditions.

The decision has helped to vindicate Mr Chase’s investment of around £3 million in the vodka operation after selling Tyrrells Crisps to a private equity group in 2008.

The production process takes the spuds from the farm’s own fields. It takes around 35lbs of potatoes, which would cost about £25, to produce one 70cl bottle of vodka after being added to water, fermented, and then distilled and bottled – all of which takes place on site at the farm.

He said the secret lies in the production methods, which rely on a 70ft tall metal column which plays an integral part in the distillation process.

He said: “One of the unique things about our vodka is it is made from a traditional copper pot, which gives it its character.

“We boil it up in the copper pot and it has a column and it bubbles away in there and condenses and evaporates about 50 times.

“A lot of people just make the vodka then filter it whereas we do all of that in the distillation process, so there are already no impurities.”

“To make spirits is like a fine art. It isn’t just a process,” Mr Chase added. “Generally you can make food as long as you have the right ingredients, but spirits are not that simple.

“With crisps it wasn’t too difficult – you just start off with the pubs and more and more orders roll in – but not everyone can sell premium spirits.”

The distillation process at Chase Vodka means the final outcome has a consistency more like wine.

The company employs only 10 people, including head distiller Jamie Baxter who previously worked making crisps.

At present, the team at Chase are making 1,000 bottles a week of vodka and 1,000 bottles of gin, which is made by adding junipers and citrus to the vodka.

It also produces some liqueurs, including marmalade, blackcurrant and rhubarb flavours.

Mr Chase said up until the award win the UK was the company’s largest market, but the US seems set to overtake it. It also exports across Europe, and even to Russia.

He said: “Since we won the award it has gone ballistic. People are buying lots of it and they love the fact it is English.

“Normally we sell something like 100 bottles a week online, but in the last few days we have been selling 300 or 400 bottles a day.

“We can make about 3,000 bottles a week with the kit we have got and because it is premium we wouldn’t want to make more than that. We don’t want to be mass market.”

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Mitchells & Butlers Shares

Birmingham pub group Mitchells & Butlers, which owns chains like Harvester and All Bar One, has seen profits rise more than 50 per cent after changing direction to focus more on food.

The Fleet Street firm announced pre-tax profits of £73 million in the 22 weeks to 10 April. This was compared to £47 million in the same period last year.

M&B went through a massive boardroom shakeup at the end of last year after board members and major shareholders disagreed about the composition of the board.

Billionaire Joe Lewis, the largest investor in the firm, eventually prevailed in getting a number of new people appointed to the company, but the firm said it would keep on with plans to focus on food-led outlets and move away from drinking pubs.

Recently the company announced plans to sell about 300 pubs that were not profitable enough.

In the last 22 weeks, sales at the company were at £1.4 billion, about 1 per cent up on the year before.

Chief executive Adam Fowle said: "The business continues to trade well and we are pleased with the progress made in the first half with improved sales and margins leading to an increase in operating profits and profit before tax of 12.2 per cent and 55.3 per cent respectively. These results underpin our confidence in our strategy of increasing shareholder value by reshaping Mitchells & Butlers around its key food led brands."

As you know, to identify exactly what your competitors are doing online you need live accounts. We have live accounts with your competitors.

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A company that allows social care service users to choose, pay and manage their needs online has appointed its first managing director.

Jonathan Barnes will be responsible for driving growth and spearheading the newly-appointed telesales team at Halesowen-based

Mr Barnes previously spent four years at Ikon/Ricoh International, including two years as a global accounts manager, as well as two years at Centrica/Onetel as UK sales and retention manager.

He said: “There is a real passion behind– that is giving people who need care and support the most choice, control and independence possible, and I am thoroughly looking forward to helping it achieve this aim.

“I am relishing the challenge of making this pioneering new company a successful and effective business.” founder Karen Garner said: “We are delighted to welcome Jonathan into the role, and are sure that his experience and enthusiasm will prove invaluable in growing and developing into one of the UK’s leading care brokerage services.”

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Kraft Move Jobs

Business leaders in Birmingham today welcomed the news that Kraft Foods intends to create a new global centre of excellence for chocolate research and development at Bournville.

New Cadbury owner Kraft revealed it planned to close its Cheltenham office and have its UK operation headquartered in Birmingham after it agreed a £11.5 billion takeover deal earlier this year.

Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the move vindicated the chamber’s backing of the deal.

He said: “The plans are excellent news for Birmingham and an endorsement of the Chamber’s support for rolling out a welcome for Kraft.

“It is an important and iconic brand for Birmingham and we are delighted that this association will be retained.

“This is also goods news on the jobs front with the announcement that Kraft’s combined office network team will be co-located in Bournville and Uxbridge, the site of the previous Cadbury head office.”

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Land Rover - New Jobs

Land Rover is creating 275 new jobs at its plant in Solihull following a surge in demand which saw the firm record the highest ever sales figures in its 62-year history in March.

The announcement of the extra agency positions confirms the turnaround for Land Rover over the past year, with the automotive company registering seven consecutive months of improved sales.

It will also strengthen the case to keep both Jaguar Land Rover West Midland production sites open, adding to speculation last month that the carmaker’s owners were planning to backtrack on proposals to close either the Castle Bromwich or Lode Lane plant.

Phil Popham, Land Rover managing director said: “These additional positions are excellent news for the manufacturing industry in the Midlands.

“It comes as a result of a phenomenal response received from customers and the media to the award winning 2010 model year range, giving Land Rover an incredible start to the year.”

More than 5,000 people work at the Solihull plant.

The extra 275 agency positions will start immediately to boost the build rate in light of the increased demand for the new vehicle 2010 model year range.

In March 2010, Land Rover sales in the UK were up 67 per cent on the same month last year, selling over 11,300 vehicles.

As well as the Defender model, the Solihull plant is responsible for manufacturing

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National Express

The new boss of transport group National Express has reported an encouraging start to the year with cost saving programmes and stronger operational focus driving improved margins.

The Birmingham-based group endured a torrid 2009, as huge debts and problems with the East Coast Main Line hit income.

However, new chief executive Dean Finch said, in a statement to the London Stock Exchange, the group is on track to meet expectations for margin and profit in the full year and continues to build its financial strength.

The company said that despite conditions remaining relatively difficult, the first quarter saw a stabilising in revenue trends and operating margins have improved across the business.

Its UK performance improved in the first quarter, benefitting from a return to profitability in rail and delivery of actions to increase margin.

Mr Finch said: “We have made an encouraging start to 2010 as we roll out our plans for operational improvement. We are already seeing signs of progress in North America, have clear plans for our UK Bus business and continue to build on our strengths in Spain and UK Coach.

“Whilst we have much to do, National Express has a strong portfolio of first class transport businesses and the ability to deliver to its full potential over the longer term.”

Mr Finch joined the group as chief executive on February 15. He has completed a review of the business, which has highlighted the “underperforming” UK bus division as an issue, and revealed a transformation programme of its US business was not working.

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