Strong growth in the air sector has helped drive a 4.8% hike in full-year UK revenue for Starbucks and Upper Crust travel sites operator SSP.

The increase comprised 2.1% like-for-like growth and net contract gains of 2.7%, driven by an increase in UK airport passenger numbers and greater spend per passenger. Total UK revenue in the year ending 30 September was £787.7m.

The business, which recently opened its first Knead concept store at London’s Euston station in partnership with Paul Hollywood, reported that trading in the rail sector continued to be soft, however.

Underlying operating profit for the UK rose 23.2% on a constant currency basis to £82.1m, and the underlying operating margin increased by 160 points to 10.4%, helped by the strong revenue growth in the air sector, improved margins and labour efficiencies.

Activity has included a more standardised approach to labour forecasting and scheduling through a programme called Better Service Planning.

“We have rolled out the new system across the UK and initial results are encouraging,” said the business. “We are now undertaking further pilot studies across a number of other countries. We are also trialling self-scan and self-serve checkouts at a number of units, both of which can contribute to greater efficiency and the customer experience.”

The business has also recently introduced a new premium range in partnership with celebrity chef James Martin as part of its UK on-board rail offer. This includes hotpots, British ham and Barber cheese baguettes.

Openings have included a new-look Ritazza at Euston station, a Camden Food Company in Dubai airport and an Upper Crust at Brisbane airport. SSP reported that the first Knead store had been well-received by customers, and that it had secured a deal with Gordon Ramsay to open a new grab-and-go concept in the air sector.

At group level, the business reported full-year underlying operating profit up 27% to £162.9m on revenue up 11.7% to £2,379.1m.

“SSP has delivered another good performance in 2017,” said group CEO Kate Swann. “We have grown our presence across the world, particularly in North America and Asia and are pleased with the performance of our new business in India. We have invested significant capital in the business this year, our highest to date, and at the same time we are returning cash to shareholders.

“The new financial year has started in line with our expectations and, whilst a degree of uncertainty always exists around passenger numbers in the short term, we continue to be well-placed to benefit from the structural growth opportunities in our markets.”