Wm Morrison sales up on record customer numbers

Supermarket chain Wm Morrisons has shrugged off the retail sector gloom to post an almost nine per cent rise in its pre-tax profits in the first half as a record number of shoppers visited its stores.

Morrisons attracted 11.5m customers on average each week, adding 2.2 per cent to its like for like sales excluding VAT and petrol, compared with the first half of 2010.

The first of the large chains to report its progress to the market, it has gained ground as customers have traded down from more expensive brands in the tougher economic climate.

Chief executive Dalton Philips said its focus on cutting food and petrol prices had gained it more business.

But he emphasised that the environment had been both challenging for consumers and difficult for suppliers due to petrol price shocks and price inflation. .

Philips said the group was also focused on forward-loooking investment such as trialling the first smaller-scale convenience shop and was upbeat on the outlook.

“As we entered 2011 we expected that the consumer would remain under pressure throughout the year, and planned our business accordingly,” he said.

“During the first half the trading environment has, as expected, been challenging and we anticipate it to continue to be so for some time to come.

"Despite this, our performance to date, our growing customer base and our ongoing focus on tight cost control throughout the business, give the board confidence that we will deliver our expectations for the year.”

Pre-tax profit hit £449m, and Morrison’s said underlying profit, which included property disposals and pension interest, rose eight per cent to £442m.