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Sales surge at WM Morrison

SUPERMARKET group WM Morrison yesterday reported a better-than-expected 8.2 per cent jump in first quarter like-for-like sales, after it poached new customers from premium retailers.<br /><br />Chief executive Marc Bolland said Britain&rsquo;s fourth largest supermarket had attracted an extra 500,000 customers a week over the period, largely driven by strong growth in London and the South.<br /><br />The group said that total sales excluding fuel were up by 9.2 per cent in the 13 weeks to 3 May. <br /><br />Bolland said that shopper growth was largely due to a surge in younger, affluent customers switching from premium retailers. <br /><br />Bolland added: &ldquo;We are taking customers away from all the major competitors, including the premium sector. These new affluent customers are not only shopping for full baskets but spending more on average, driving our profits forwards.&rdquo; <br /><br />The current trend for dining at home in the recession has also lifted the group, with sales of ovenware and fresh ingredients jumping.<br /><br />&nbsp;WM Morrison cautiously left its financial outlook unchanged, denting investor and analyst optimism.<br /><br />Moody&rsquo;s rating agency yesterday upgraded the retailer to AAA rating, the only two other retailers in the world with that rating are WalMart and Carrefour. <br /><br />But despite the buoyant results, the group yesterday announced it will downgrade workers&rsquo; pensions in a move that will cut the retirement incomes of 4,500 staff. <br /><br />From July, staff in the group&rsquo;s pension scheme will be moved from a final-salary scheme to an average-salary scheme, prompting anger from unions.