Coffee-bar chain Caffé Nero believes a smoking ban in England is unlikely to hurt its business.
At present, 41 of Nero's 230 stores are non-smoking, and the majority of new openings will be non-smoking venues from launch. Boss Gerry Ford told Caterer: "The stores that have gone non-smoking are producing sales figures in line or better than those that haven't. "We're making a gradual transition, with 30% of the estate converting to non-smoking this year and a similar figure due until the 2008 deadline."
Ford added that the group was eyeing international expansion with a possible franchise deal in the Middle East and a joint venture in Northern Europe in the pipeline.
"I think the brand really has legs, but we'll be pragmatic in our approach," he said. "We can't be everywhere like Starbucks, so we'll be concentrating on one territory at a time."
Turnover in the year to 31 May was up 39% to a record £70.1m (2004: £50.5m), while pre-tax profit soared 201% to a record £5.1m (2004: £1.7m).