Dry cleaner Johnson Service yesterday said trading at its high street business remained "unpredictable" after weaker consumer spending almost halved profits at the division.

The group, which has 600 dry cleaning stores including its Johnsons Cleaners and Sketchley chains, said samestore retail sales fell 2.4 per cent in the first half of its financial year.

This led operating profits at the division to fall to £2.7 million from £5 million last time, and contributed to the wider group posting a 14 per cent drop in profits to £10.2 million for the six months to June 25. However, turnover climbed 27 per cent, up from £168.7 million to £215 million.

Chairman Simon Sherrard said: "Trading conditions for our retail dry cleaning division were difficult during the first half of the year and remain unpredictable."

However, the group, which also provides uniforms and protective clothing to the emergency services and whose other brands include Londonbased dry cleaner Jeeves of Belgravia, remained upbeat about its prospects after increasing its presence in stronger markets.

Johnson said its corporate wear and services divisions performed well, helping position the wider group for a "satisfactory" outcome for the year.

The corporate clothing arm - which supplies more than ten million garments to around 2.2 million workers - increased its operating profits to £4.1 million in the six months to June 25, from £1 million previously.

This was mainly due to a string of acquisitions, including the purchase of brands such as Dimensions and protective clothing supplier S Yaffy last year.