Anne Bruce
Asda continues to clock up strong sales growth and grab market share from rivals, it emerged this week, while Safeway and Somerfield are struggling to make any headway in a tough sector.
Wal-Mart said first quarter like-for-like sales growth at its UK subsidiary was in the upper single digits, excluding petrol, and mid single digits when petrol was included.
Asda is said to have outperformed its rivals through aggressive pricing, development of its own label and strong trading around key events such as St Valentine's Day and Easter.
The claims are supported by the latest TNS data which revealed Asda has boosted its share of the grocery market from 15.7% to 16.3% in the 12 weeks to April 27.
TNS till roll figures also reveal Asda's total sales for the period leapt 8.4% year-on-year.
The researcher's data shows Safeway's share slipped 0.6% to 9.6%, and Somerfield's edged down 0.1% to 5.5%, over the same period.
Safeway announced its full-year results this week, and balmed a £20m dip in pre-tax profit on the uncertainty surrounding the business since it was put up for sale, sparking the five-way auction now being investigated by the Competition Commission.
Analysts said Safeway's results were marginally ahead of expectations.
Mark Hughes of Numis said: "This is a credible performance for a business up for sale and we do not believe Philip Green now has any excuses not to get the bidding process underway."
He said: "We reiterate our belief that Wal-Mart will be the ultimate victor."
Somerfield, the other retail chain now the subject of takeover speculation, issued a trading statement for the year to April 26 2003.
It said like-for-like sales were up 1% for the year and up 1.3% in the second half.
The strength of Somerfield's brands, and the value of its property portfolio, were emphasised in the trading update. Analysts said this was a clear attempt to keep potential bidders interested and shore up its share price after turning down a 103p a share offer from entrepreneur John Lovering.
Lovering is now expected to wait until the Competition Commission reports on Safeway in August or September before deciding whether to make another approach. He wants to see if he will be able to sell stores to other retailers before making a bid.
All eyes are now on Sainsbury, which announces its full-year figures on Tuesday, and Somerfield, which reports in July.
n Waitrose said pre-tax profit rose 1% to £93.2m on sales up 5% to £2.42bn in the year to January 25. It said the small rise in profit reflected the cost of opening four new branches.

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