Supermarket chain Sainsbury's has extended its recent recovery by revealing sales grew 6.6 per cent in the second quarter of its financial year.

The like-for-like figure, which strips out petrol sales and changes in store space, means the chain has now grown sales for seven quarters in a row.

Chief executive Justin King said the company's performance had been helped by spells of good weather, which led to greater focus on fresh and healthy food.

Mr King added that the company had "good momentum" as it entered the important Christmas period.

He warned the market was likely to remain highly competitive, with Sainsbury's also facing tougher sales comparatives from a year earlier.

Across the first six months of the financial year, Sainsbury's said sales rose 7.8 per cent, with the figure on a like-for-like basis ahead by 6.2 per cent.

The boost in the first quarter - covering the 16 weeks to Saturday - came after Sainsbury's managed to turn the first loss in the company's history into profits last year.

Under a three-year recovery plan called Making Sainsbury's Great Again, Mr King has taken on extra staff and invested more money in price cuts.

Despite increases in energy costs, Sainsbury's said prices in the first half of the year remained the same as a year earlier.

Mr King added: "Our good sales performance continues to enable us to invest in our offer as we are committed to improving our competitive position."

Sainsbury's said customers had responded "overwhelmingly" to its advertising campaign - backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver - encouraging shoppers to "Try Something New Today".

And during the quarter Sainsbury's relaunched its premium Taste The Difference range, introducing 250 new products to take the total to 1,100 lines. The company said the range had strict brand guidelines such as no artificial colours, flavours or hydrogenated fats.

Britain's third-biggest supermarket group said like-for-like sales growth, excluding petrol, advanced 6.6 per cent in the 16 weeks to October 7 when compared with the same period last year. Analysts were expecting a 6.2 per cent increase, according to an average of six forecasts.

The company achieved 5.7 per cent growth in the previous three months. Merrill Lynch repeated its "sell" advice on the stock, noting that although the performance was good, it was only broadly in line with Tesco and Morrison, which have all benefited from recent food inflation.

The broker also noted the group did not talk up its 2007 forecasts and told clients the consensus of £351 million pre tax profit for that year "still feels low".

JP Morgan, meanwhile, noted that results were better than expected with like-for-like sales (excluding fuel) coming in at 6.6 per cent compared to its estimate of 6.2 per cent, although the broker noted that the good result was largely volume driven, with some good weather contributing to the result.

JP Morgan reiterated its 'underweight' stance, telling its nclients that it believes the company needs convincingly to drive sales densities harder over an extended period of time.

Shares closed down 6.5p at 384.5.