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Morrisons in bid to expand

SUPERMARKET chain WM Morrison yesterday pledged to open more smaller stores after new openings last year helped it to record a 30 per cent rise in full-year pre-tax profit.

In 2009, pre-tax profits surged to £858m as turnover rose by six per cent to £15.4bn.

The company, Britain’s fourth largest supermarket, raised its annual dividend 41 per cent to 8.2p a share on the strength of the results.

Morrisons’ non executive chairman Sir Ian Gibson said the positive response from customers to new store openings had encouraged the supermarket to look at trading from smaller stores in future.

“While these stores are smaller than our average, we are confident that we can operate this size of store very successfully.”

He said that 34 of the 43 stores opened during the year were acquired from the Co-op, after the latter’s takeover of its rival, Somerfield.

Former chief executive, Marc Bolland, left the company in December and is due to become the new boss at Marks and Spencer on 1 May.

The company opened 43 new stores last year with the average number of weekly customers across all stores up seven per cent.

Morrisons said it put in place 30,000 price cuts during the year and “delivered a promotional programme that enabled our customers to save money whilst eating good fresh food”.

Sales of its own label value range rose 34 per cent in the year, while sales of premium organic and fairtrade products declined.

Gibson added: “Morrisons had another good year.

“Once again our focus on fresh food and great value appealed to shoppers everywhere, and we have successfully grown sales and profits to record levels.”