UPDATE 1-Upper Crust owner SSP expects Q1 sales to slump due to virus resurgence

(Adds CEO comment, details on outlook and covenant waivers, background)

Dec 17 (Reuters) - SSP Group, the owner of the Upper Crust and Caffe Ritazza snack chains, said on Thursday it expects first-quarter sales to sink 80% due to rising COVID-19 cases in Europe after it reported an annual loss.

A resurgence in coronavirus infections and further lockdowns in the United Kingdom and continental Europe have resulted in further volatility in passenger numbers, which is expected to continue through the second quarter, the company said.

“Whilst we expect passenger numbers to remain subdued over the winter, we are optimistic that, alongside good progress with the vaccination programme, we will see a significant upturn in both domestic and international travel from the spring,” Chief Executive Officer Simon Smith said.

The company also said it has broadened its revenue streams by selling essentials such as masks and sanitisers, as well as providing food for COVID-19 testing centres at airports and feeding airline staff.

SSP did not provide further details on the potential 5,000 job cuts in Britain it had announced in July.

The company, which has cut investments, stopped shareholder payouts and launched an emergency share issue to ride out the crisis, said it had agreed on further covenant waivers and amendments up to March 2022.

The company, whose chains sell food and drinks in airports and train stations in about 35 countries, posted an underlying pretax loss of 239.6 million pounds ($325.04 million) for the year ended Sept. 30, compared with a profit of 203.2 million pounds a year earlier.

$1 = 0.7371 pounds Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni