Wholesaler Booker has announced a bumper rise in profits for the past six months, with a major increase in online sales more than offsetting a dip in demand for tobacco products.

The cash-and-carry giant reported that like-for-like sales in tobacco fell by just over 3% over the 24 weeks to 12 September. However, non-tobacco sales rose by 4.1% to contribute to a combined improvement of just over 1%.

Online sales, meanwhile, more than doubled to £96m from £34m last year.

Pre-tax profits surged by more than a quarter (28.6%) to £26.5m, up from a figure of £20.6m for the equivalent period in 2007.

The company also said it had slashed its net debt almost in half, falling from £46.9m owed last year to £28.9m.

“Despite the challenging business environment, Booker continues to make good progress,” said chief executive Charles Wilson. “Through improving choice, price and service we are gaining a larger spend from our customers. Plans to broaden the business are progressing well. Our internet sales increased to £96m [from] £34m last year and we have become a major force in the delivered wholesale market.”