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Unilever has announced the appointment of Ian Meakins as chair designate to replace outgoing chair Nils Andersen.

Meakins will join the Board as non-executive director and chair designate on 1 September 2023 and will succeed Nils Andersen as chair on 1 December 2023 who will step down from the board after nine years’ service at its AGM in May 2024.

Meakins is currently chair of Compass Group and Rexel, and has “significant global business experience across a diverse range of industries”.

He served as CEO of Wolseley (now Ferguson) from 2009 to 2016 and was CEO of Travelex Holdings, Alliance Unichem (until its merger with Boots in 2006). Previously he held positions at Diageo, Bain & Company, and Procter & Gamble.

Andersen said: “I am delighted to welcome Ian to the Board following a thorough global search process. Ian has a strong track record of success in executive and non-executive roles across a range of industries. I am sure Unilever will greatly benefit from his extensive experience and I am confident that he will provide the Board with strong and effective leadership.”

Meakins added “It is a great honour to have been asked to succeed Nils as Chair of Unilever. I look forward to working with the Board and with Hein and his leadership team to help realise Unilever’s full potential and create value for all its stakeholders.”

Hein Schumacher, Unilever CEO, commented: “On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Nils for his excellent leadership of our company as Chair over the last four years.

“Nils chaired the company through a period of significant volatility and some of the most challenging operational conditions in decades. He was instrumental in sharpening Unilever’s focus on operational performance, creating a simpler and more agile company through the unification of Unilever NV and PLC into one legal structure, and implementing our new category focused organization.”

Morning update

Britain has lost 6,000 storefronts in five years, according to new data from the British Retail Consortium and LDC.

Its quarterly vacancy monitor found that the overall GB vacancy rate increased to 13.9%, in the second quarter, which was a 0.1 percentage point worse than Q1.

Shopping centre vacancies remain unchanged at 17.8%, the same level as Q1.

High Street vacancies increased to 13.9% in Q2, 0.1% worse than Q1. Meanwhile retail park vacancies fell to 8.1% in Q2, a 0.6 percentage point improvement from Q1 2023 and continues to remain the retail location with by far the lowest vacancy rate.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson commented: “The past five years saw Britain lose 6,000 retail outlets, with crippling business rates and the impact of the Covid lockdowns a key part of decisions to close stores and think twice about new openings. The North and Midlands continue to see the highest amount of empty storefronts. London’s vacancy rate remains the lowest, improving over the last quarter thanks to the opening of new flagship stores, more office workers, and tourists visiting the capital.”

“To inject more vibrancy into high streets and town centres, and prevent further store closures, Government should review the broken business rates system. Currently, there’s an additional £400m going on retailers’ bills next April, which will put a brake on the vital investment that our towns and cities so desperately need. The Government announcement earlier in the week about making changes of use to vacant units easier is welcome but it’s important local councils have a cohesive plan, and don’t leave gap-toothed high streets that are no longer a customer destination and risk becoming inviable. Government should go one step further and freeze rates bills next year. ”

Lucy Stainton, commercial director, Local Data Company, added: “The headline findings from Q2 are unlikely to have come as a surprise to anyone, with economic pressure from rising interest rates and inflation already mounting as the year began. Current challenges to businesses have been compounded by tightening discretionary spend and a dip in confidence among consumers. The economic headwinds that have made the headlines have filtered into the data, reflected in a slight rise in the overall vacancy rate.

“The high street has seen some of the most notable impacts, with rising rents and increased competition putting pressure on small and independent businesses, who may struggle to meet high operating costs. Across all location types, vacancy has reached critical levels, highlighting an ever-increasing need to redevelop units to breathe life back into retail destinations.

“The current climate is undeniably difficult, but it should not be overlooked that today’s retailers are more innovative and future-thinking than ever. With the continuing trend in mind, we do not foresee any improvements to vacancy rate in future. However, given that the latest rises in vacancy have not been particularly significant, we anticipate that any increases in the near future will be gradual.”

Elsewhere, PayPoint has posted its annual results and a trading update for its first quarter.

In the year to 31 March the payments group posted an 11.9% increase in net revenue from continuing operations to £128.9m.

Growth was driven by increases across all PayPoint segment business divisions with E-commerce doing particularly well with 46.3% increase in net revenue over the year.

Profit before tax from continuing operations fell back to £42.6m from £48.5m, reflecting current year exceptional costs incurred of £5.6m against the prior year exceptional income of £2.9m.

Underlying profit before tax increased by £2.8m (5.8%) to £50.8m.

PayPoint said the results represented “a strong year across the PayPoint Group establishing a materially enhanced platform for future growth and reporting profit before tax at the top end of range of market expectations”.

CEO Nick Wiles commented: “This has been another strong year for the PayPoint Group where we have made significant steps to materially enhance our platform and capabilities to deliver sustainable, profitable growth and enhanced rewards for our shareholders. Our financial performance has been positive, with net revenue growth across all our business divisions, excellent progress in parcels and digital payments, and good momentum in our key growth areas of card processing, Open Banking, integrated payments and the prospect of new opportunities delivered through the acquisition of the Appreciate Group.

“We finished FY23 with good momentum, and trading has been positive in the first quarter of FY24 as we continue to leverage our enhanced platform and capabilities which includes: a full-strength sales team delivering high conversion rates and growing our respective estates in PayPoint and Handepay; healthy pipelines for our FMCG and integrated payments propositions; and a dynamic platform of innovative technology and solutions enabling integrated payments and commerce for our extensive base of clients, retailer partners and SMEs.

“All of this underlines our confidence in delivering further progress and a quickening momentum in the new financial year, with the acquisition of Appreciate Group expected to be earnings enhancing in our first full year of ownership, and the Group trading in line with expectations.”

First quarter group net revenue increased by 19.7% to £35.8m.

Wiles added: “Our enhanced platform and expanded capabilities across the Group, combined with our business-wide partnership philosophy and intensity of execution, give the Board confidence in delivering further progress in the year and meeting expectations.

“Our compelling characteristics of strong cash flow and resilient earnings remain constant, and our materially enhanced platform is positioned to deliver sustainable and profitable growth for our shareholders, and further progress in the delivery of these objectives in the current year.”

Finally, B&M European Value Retail has entered a “retention agreement” with group trading director Bobby Arora.

The agreement will secure his commitment to the Company until at least March 2026.

It said Arora has played an “instrumental role in developing the B&M customer proposition and delivering the company’s long term growth and profitability”.

However, as he is not an executive director on the board, he has historically not received a performance-based long term incentive plan award.

The B&M board said it believes that continuing to align his interests with those of B&M is important to the long-term success of the business and has therefore entered into an agreement with Arora which will deliver cash bonus payments over and above his normal remuneration package.

The maximum additional bonus payable to Bobby Arora is £16m over a three year period through to the end of the 2026 financial year and is subject to a number of financial and performance criteria.

“Following the smooth and successful Chief Executive succession last year, this retention package will ensure that B&M continues have a strong leadership team in place which will enable the Company to offer customers exceptional value for money and deliver long term value to all shareholders,” the group said.

On the markets this morning, the FTSE 100 us up another 0.2% to 7,710.8pts.

Risers include PayPoint, up 4.2% to 488p, Glanbia, up 2.8% to €14.35 and Kerry Group, up 2.5% to €90.56.

Fallers include THG, down 2.5% to 102.7p, Bakkavor, down 2.4% to 104.4p and Naked Wines, down 1.6% to 73.8p. 

Yesterday in the City

The FTSE 100 closed yesterday up 0.1% to 7,702pts.

Risers included Virgin Wines, up 6.7% to 32p, Bakkavor, up 5.9% to 107p, DS Smith, up 2.6% to 308.9p, THG, up 2.5% to 105.3p, C&C Group, up 2.1% to 143p and SSP Group, up 1.4% to 257.2p.

The day’s fallers included Just Eat, down 4.5% to 1,401p, McBride, down 3% to 32.8p, Naked Wines, down 2.3% to 75p, Nichols, down 1.4% to 1,025p, Tesco, down 1% to 260.7p and Kerry Group, down 1% to €88.35.

Nestle ended the day up 2.6% to CHF108 after posting better than expected first half sales on price growth.