Resurgent supermarket Sainsbury’s said its recovery was on track as it posted a 123 per cent rise in half-year profits.
The company said it had overcome a highly competitive market after like-for-like sales excluding fuel grew by 6.2 per cent during the six months to October 7, boosting pretax profits to #194 million during the period.
The chain has now delivered #1.3 billion additional sales after 18 months as part of its Making Sainsbury’s Great Again – more than half its planned #2.5 billion target,
The firm has now enjoyed seven consecutive quarters of like-for-like sales and market share growth as it benefits from the nation’s healthy eating drive.
Chairman Philip Hampton said: "We are now halfway through our three-year plan and the recovery is on track."
The "Try Something New Today" scheme, which was launched 14 months ago, was branded "incredibly successful" as it encourages people to change their eating habits.
Sainsbury said items featured in advertising – fronted by TV chef Jamie Oliver – had inspired customers to put different products into their baskets.
Mango sales were up 400 per cent year on year after the fruit was featured in an ad during the summer, while the Christmas campaign will offer more ideas.
Chief executive Justin King said: "A good performance on food together with good performances from online and non-food have driven higher sales densities, which are up 5.6 per cent."
Sales made on the supermarket website have grown by 40 per cent year on year and the company now takes around 60,000 orders each week online.
Sainsbury admitted the market would remain "highly competitive" over the next six months as it also faces higher energy costs and tougher sales comparatives.
The results come a day after Asda celebrated a reversal in fortunes as it managed to attract a million extra customers to its stores. Asda said like-for-like sales were up in the low single digits in the third quarter of the year and "continue to improve".
But despite Sainsbury’s strong performance, Mr King downplayed suggestions that the chain could overtake its Wal-Mart-owned rival during the next 12 months. He said: "I think anything is possible, but its never been part of our plans."
Tesco saw its share of the market increase to 31.4 per cent during the 12 weeks to September 10, compared to 30.1 per cent during the same period last year.
The survey by TNS Worldpanel found Asda held the tightly-contested second spot with a market share of 16.7 per cent.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s boasted a market share of 15.9 per cent and Bradford-based Morrisons, which acquired rival Safeway in 2005, slipped slightly to 11 per cent from 11.2 per cent despite recent signs of a recovery.
Sainsbury’s would not comment on its third quarter trading in the run-up to the Christmas break.
But Mr King believes the firm had "good momentum" as it prepared to embark on the second half of the year and said – despite tough sales comparatives – he was still confident of hitting 3-3.5 per cent average like-for-like sales growth.
He declined to comment on private equity speculation, centred on core shareholder Lord David Sainsbury's resignation from the Government last week.
The move triggered the release of his family's 16 per cent stake from the "blind trust" they have been locked in since Lord Sainsbury became a minister eight years ago.
"We never comment on market rumour and speculation other than to say we are aware of our obligations to report and we have nothing to report," Mr King said.
He said he also did not expect to have a conversation with Lord Sainsbury, a member of the supermarket's founding family, until "some time after" the shares are fully released from the trust in three months.
Richard Hunter, head of UK equities at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers, said: "By giving its biggest rival a three-year head start – which Sainsbury has effectively done as Tesco has raced away – trying to close the ensuing gap is the real challenge."