Belfast Telegraph

'X Factor effect' helps lift Sainsbury's profits

Sainsbury's has posted an 8% rise in half-year profits to £332m after the UK's third biggest supermarket chain boasted record customer numbers.

Sainsbury's, which has 12 stores across Northern Ireland and has plans in place for an additional three, employs almost 3,000 here.

The profits figure, which covers the 28 weeks to October 2 and excludes the impact of property disposals, was slightly ahead of City expectations.

Chief executive Justin King said that customer numbers are now at an all-time high of over 20 million transactions every week, up one million on last year. The supermarket sector is proving increasingly competitive as cash-strapped consumers resist price hikes caused by commodity price inflation.

Mr King said the supermarket had benefited from the "X Factor effect" as customers saved money by staying in to watch their favourite TV shows.

Justin King said the retailer's Taste the Difference range had seen a sharp growth in sales since its relaunch in September, which he believed reflected a trend of consumers improving home dining rather than going out to restaurants.

The premium offering was given a £1bn makeover earlier this year, with two-thirds of the 1,100 product range changed or improved.

But Sainsbury's is one of the strongest players in the market and figures yesterday revealed it was the only one of the "big four" supermarkets to grow market share in the three months to October 31.

The supermarket has been on an aggressive expansion drive and remains on track to open 1.5 million square feet in new space during the current financial year.

In the last six months, the chain has opened or extended 29 stores, adding 540,000 square feet to its estate.

The company is also growing its convenience store business - which gives annual sales of £1bn - and has seen 20% growth in online sales.

Total sales including VAT and fuel were up 7% to £11.9bn.

Sainsbury's said excluding fuel, sales grew 2% on a like-for-like basis.

Sainsbury's added that its non-food business is growing at three times the rate of food.