Sainsbury's scorns its rivals after profits leap

Sainsbury's yesterday posted a rise in annual profits and poured scorn on the latest investment plans of rivals Waitrose and Tesco.

The UK's third-biggest grocer also hit back at criticism it was "cutting back" on its opening programme by stressing that the one million-plus square feet of new space it would add this financial year will be the fourth biggest in its 143-year history.

Sainsbury's, which has more than 1,000 UK shops, delivered a 7.1 per cent uplift in its pre-tax profits to £712m over the year to 17 March.

Mr King hailed the contribution from Sainsbury's price scheme, which promises to match Asda and Tesco on 14,000 branded goods and hands consumers a money-back coupon if it doesn't.

But he attacked the initiative launched by Waitrose last week that guaranteed to match around 7,000 branded products at the market leader Tesco but not items on promotion.

Mr King said: "If you take a price promise that doesn't include promotions it is only really half a promise."

Boosted by 1.4 million square feet of new space, Sainsbury's grew its total sales, including VAT, by 6.8 per cent to £24.5bn. The group's like-for-like sales, excluding fuel and VAT, rose by 1.4 per cent.

Sainsbury's underlying sales have grown ahead of Morrisons and Tesco over recent months, but its two listed rivals are more profitable. Morrisons posted pre-tax profits of £935m last year, while Tesco, which has operations in 14 countries, delivered £3.9bn.

Mr King also brushed aside the market leader Tesco's commitment to invest £1bn in its UK operation, following years of weak underlying sales. He said: "I don't think that Tesco's reinvestment changes that this is a competitive market."

Sainsbury's continues to explore opportunities in China but Mr King said it had "no immediate or short-term plans for international expansion". Shares in Sainsbury's rose by 4p to 305.3p.

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