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Omicron: COVID variant has had little impact on Christmas shopping visits says Primark owner

Christmas Shopping visits to Primark stores have suffered little impact from the arrival of the Omicron variant, the company that owns the fashion chain said.

John Bason, finance director of Associated British Foods (ABF), made the remarks as it said in a trading update that sales at the retailer had been ahead of expectations.

Primark relies entirely on store visits for its sales as, unlike rivals, it eschews online retail – and it took a £2bn hit to revenues as a result of the pandemic when its outlets were shut or, after they opened, fewer went to them.

The arrival of the Omicron variant and Plan B rules to tackle its spread has prompted fears of empty city centres as employees return to working from home – and hospitality firms say they have seen a dramatic impact on bookings.

But Mr Bason told the Reuters news agency, regarding Primark: “In terms of the Omicron variant we haven’t really seen much of an effect on footfall.

“We’re trading well over Christmas.”

For retailers the current trading period is known as the “golden quarter” because it is so crucial to their overall success – and many of them missed out when restrictions were toughened last Christmas.

The British Retail Consortium warned earlier this week that working from home guidance set to come into effect next week would inevitably “have significant impacts on footfall for some retailers who have only just begun to find their feet after the pandemic”.

ABF said in its latest update said trading at the chain since the start of its financial year in mid-September had been “ahead of expectations with improved like-for-like sales compared to the fourth quarter of our last financial year”.

The group recently disclosed how, like businesses across the economy, Primark – which has 400 stores worldwide – was facing supply chain disruption, which meant there was “limited availability” on some product lines.

In its latest update, ABF said: “We are managing disruption in our supply chain by prioritising products most in demand with the support of our logistics providers for whom we are a very important customer.

“We have stock cover on the vast majority of lines for the important Christmas trading period.”

ABF noted new COVID restrictions taking effect in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria

It added: “Looking ahead we currently expect Primark sales to be significantly better than sales in the comparable period in the last financial year, from December 2020 to April 2021, when the estate was largely closed.”

ABF is a conglomerate which also includes a major sugar business as well as grocery lines such as Twinings tea, Ryvita crackers, Allinson bread and Dorset Cereals.

In its latest statement, it reiterated a previous warning that supply chain disruption and cost increases could mean higher prices in its non-Primark divisions.

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