William Morrison left rival supermarket groups standing over the Christmas period with a double-digit rise in underlying sales but warned it would "struggle" to maintain such buoyant growth.
The Bradford-based group said like-for-like sales would slow from the 10.2 per cent jump it saw over the festive period as it embarks on the mammoth task of integrating Safeway, which it has agreed to acquire for £3bn.
Bob Stott, the joint managing director, said underlying sales gains of "mid-single digits" would be more realistic given that the company could no longer expect its novelty factor to lure shoppers.
Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the group's initial bid for Safeway. The "curiosity value" of just who this Northern player was helped Morrisons outpace its competitors last year, Mr Stott said, adding that the group was "nibbling [market share] away here, there and everywhere".
Analysts pointed to J Sainsbury and Safeway as the main victims of Morrisons' strength: Sainsbury's is expected to unveil a 1 per cent fall in Christmas like-for-like sales on Monday, while Tesco's comparable sales, due to be unveiled on Tuesday, are expected to have risen by some 5 per cent.
Shares in Morrison's surged 5.5p to a record high of 237.5p, valuing its offer for Safeway at 297.5p per share.
The company said underlying non-food sales were particularly strong, leaping by 15.8 per cent over the Christmas period. During the 48 weeks to 4 January, like-for-like sales rose by 9.3 per cent, or 8.4 per cent excluding petrol.Reuse content