The head of Sainsbury’s in Northern Ireland has said its stores in the province are among the best performing in the UK.
David Davidson, regional operations manager for Sainsbury’s Northern Ireland, made the comments as the retail giant reported half-year profits of £307m, up 18.5% on a year earlier.
The UK's third biggest grocery chain posted the underlying profits after sales rose 5.7% on a like-for-like basis in the 28 weeks to October 3.
Having previously warned that easing food inflation would slow sales growth, the group confirmed market growth was expected to fall back in a challenging environment.
Shares rose 2% after yesterday's profits figure bettered the £300m expected in the City.
Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said: “As we enter the second half we expect the economic environment to remain challenging and market growth to slow due to reduced food price inflation.
“We remain confident that our universal customer appeal means we are well positioned to perform in this environment.”
He added: “Our strategy is now well established and has enabled us to compete successfully through challenging economic conditions.”
The firm, which rings up more than 18.5 million sales through its tills each week, an increase of 800,000 year on year, is hoping to compete better in the non-food area as food sales come under pressure.
It said non-food was growing at a rate of two-and-a-half times that of food as it ramps up store expansion plans.
Sainsbury’s, which has 11 stores in Northern Ireland with a 12th due to open at the end of this month, employs nearly 3,000 people in the province.
Mr Davidson, regional operations manager for Sainsbury’s Northern Ireland, said: “2009 has been a year of developments for Sainsbury’s in Northern Ireland and our Northern Ireland stores are among the best performing in the company. This year we opened our new west Belfast store which is the largest new build Sainsbury’s anywhere in the UK.
“We announced the takeover of the Co-op in Carrickfergus which will open later this month, as well as plans for new stores in Dundonald and Londonderry.
“The new stores signal Sainsbury’s commitment to the Northern Ireland economy and to job creation here.
“This year alone we have created several hundred new positions as well as retaining Curley’s and Co-op colleagues.”
Mr Davidson also said the supermarket giant was capitalising on the surge in trade from shoppers from the South as a result of the weakness of sterling and lower VAT rates.
“We are also building on the current cross-border trade element of the business.
“This year southern shoppers are not only visiting our border stores in Newry, Armagh and Derry — they are travelling to our other northern stores such as Sprucefield, Dungannon and west Belfast. Sainsbury’s at the Holywood Exchange in Belfast has also noticed a significant uptake in euro sales.”