Sainsbury's grocery sales rebound as it eyes Nisa
Supermarket giant Sainsbury's has hailed its best supermarket sales for years thanks to a change in its ranges and deals on popular summer foods such as British strawberries.
The chain, which has 12 Northern Ireland stores, said like-for-like retail sales including the recently-bought Argos chain rose 2.3% in its first quarter. The company launched 430 new or improved food products, including 250 summer lines.
Sales were boosted by rising inflation, as well as a later Easter and Mother's Day.
The group also said it had rung up a 1.9% rise in the number of transactions at its tills.
The sales hike came as a marked bounce-back on the 0.3% growth seen the previous quarter as Sainsbury's cheered a rebound in total grocery sales, which leapt 3% higher.
This offset a slowdown in general merchandise sales - including Argos - to 1% from 1.5% the previous quarter amid an overhaul following last year's £1.4bn takeover of Home Retail Group.
Mike Coupe, chief executive of Sainsbury's, said it was the group's "best performance for a number of years".
He said the firm had worked hard with suppliers to keep a lid on prices for summer staples such as strawberries and Jersey Royal potatoes.
The chain's boss remained tight-lipped on reports Sainsbury's is now looking to buy Nisa, the network of more than 2,500 independently-owned convenience stores, in a deal worth close to £130m.
There are more than 100 independently-owned Nisa stores in Northern Ireland.
There are 50 Nisa Locals, 11 Nisa Extras, and another 40 businesses which are independent.
It is understood Sainsbury's also met with senior executives from convenience chain McColl's, which is supplied by Nisa, as it attempts to seal the deal in a response to Tesco's £3.7bn merger with wholesaler Booker.
Mr Coupe declined to comment on this, except to say the group is "always looking at potential opportunities", some of which "don't come off", he added.
The group put its grocery sales bounce-back down to its food overhaul, which saw it review 32 ranges covering 17% of grocery lines.
Its own-brand lines have also proved popular as inflation ramps up, with the Brexit-hit pound sending prices of imported food and goods soaring.
Clothing sales increased by 7.2% in the 16 weeks to July 1 while it also saw another robust performance online, with sales up 8% for groceries and 10% for Argos. Convenience store sales rose 10%.
Fast-track delivery and click and collect continued to prove popular with Argos customers, particularly in the heatwave, when it saw soaring same-day demand for paddling pools and fans.
The group said slowing general merchandise sales growth came amid disruption from the closure of 78 Argos concessions in Homebase and 84 Habitat in Homebase concessions over the past year.