Sainsbury's boasts its best-ever Christmas

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The Independent Online

Supermarket Sainsbury's today boasted its best-ever Christmas as it threw down the gauntlet to rivals.

The firm said it had 22.6 million customers in the final week before Christmas, and its busiest ever trading day on 23 December.

The first of the "big four" UK grocers to report on festive trading said overall like-for-like sales excluding fuel rose 4.5 per cent in the 13 weeks to 3 January.

Sainsbury's also saw its highest ever trading performances for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, as well as record orders for its online home delivery service.

The better-than-expected trading figures - an increase on the supermarket's 4.3 per cent second-quarter sales growth - is likely to increase the pressure on market leader Tesco.

Tesco reported a sharp fall in sales growth to 2 per cent at the end of last year due to reviving competition and its major investment in discount ranges.

Sainsbury's today said its own cheaper "basics" range saw sales rocket more than 40 per cent year-on-year.

And it reported "good growth" from its non-food offering, after events in the run-up to Christmas such as November's half-price toy promotion, in which it sold three million toys in seven days.

The company added that it was "delighted" with the performance of its Tu own brand clothing range. Sainsbury now claims a 2.3 per cent market share and is the UK's eighth largest clothing retailer by volume.

Chief executive Justin King expects a "particularly challenging" economic climate to continue during 2009 but said the firm would keep investing in price and promotions to continue its progress.

"We have continued to develop the Sainsbury's offer and demonstrated our ability to respond to rapidly changing customer needs," he said.