Sainsbury’s Christmas sales top forecasts

SUPERMARKET giant Sainsbury’s today pledged to extend its price matching scheme as it revealed better-than-expected sales in the run-up to Christmas.

The UK’s third biggest grocer saw like-for-like sales excluding fuel grow 2.1% in the 14 weeks to January 7, with customer transactions in the week before Christmas increasing by 1.5million to a record 26million.

Sainsbury’s said its Brand Match scheme – a guarantee that if an identical basket of branded goods could be bought more cheaply at rivals Asda or Tesco a coupon will be given at the till for the difference – was a hit and would continue into 2012.

The group, which opened its 1,000th store in the period, said revenues were driven by strong food sales, including �2m-worth of Taste the Difference turkeys, but general merchandise sales again grew at a faster rate than food.

Its update comes after market research figures revealed Sainsbury’s achieved its highest share of the market since March 2003 with 16.7%, while Tesco lost share.

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, triggered a price war in September with its Big Price Drop campaign and prompted Sainsbury’s to introduce its Brand Match scheme and Asda, which occupies second place in the maket, to offer a guarantee to be 10% cheaper than rivals.

But there are fears that Tesco’s campaign has failed to strike a chord with customers because it is funded by a reduction in Clubcard points and promotions.

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Sainsbury’s said its Taste the Difference range grew by 10% in the quarter, while its Basics range grew strongly, driven by “staple” ingredients.

The supermarket said a record number of customers used their Nectar cards, with �100m-worth of points redeemed.

General merchandise and clothing sales were boosted by the second range from celebrity fashion consultant Gok Wan, launched in November.

The chain’s drive to increase its portfolio of convenience stores continued in the quarter, with an additional 21 stores opened.

Chief executive Justin King said: “Consistent with trends over the past year, we expect customers to spend cautiously in 2012, particularly in the first few months as they tighten their belts post-Christmas.”

Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have all also reported strong sales figures for the Christmas period. Tesco is due to issue its update for the festive season tomorrow.