Upmarket northern supermarket chain Booths has defied the economic gloom by notching up a 3.8% increase in full-year like-for-like sales – ahead of its much larger rivals Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Pre-tax profit jumped 73% to £6.9m on sales up 5.4% to £243.6m in the year to 29 March. Despite the worsening credit crunch, sales growth remained 4% up on last year and margins were holding up well, said chairman Edwin Booth.

The figures are in stark contrast to those of M&S and Waitrose, which have seen sales growth slip in recent months. At M&S like-for-like food sales fell 0.4% in the year to 29 March and like-for-like food sales for the 13 weeks to 27 September slipped 5.9%, while Waitrose reported like-for-like sales growth of just 2.5% in the six months to 26 July, and a 0.3% drop in sales last week.

“Booths is a well-run company in a part of the country that has been less impacted by the economic slowdown,” said Shore Capital analyst Clive Black. “It also doesn’t sell clothing so it has a regular footfall, unlike M&S which is much more discretionary.”

Booths was proving to be “increasingly competitive” in supplying customers with a basic grocery offer, Booth said, adding that the chain would be offering more promotions and tertiary brands. “While enriching our promotional offer, the company has not lost sight of its core activity of selling high-quality food and drink in attractive stores with excellent service,” he said. “This has proved to be a sound approach as trading margins have remained strong.”

Profit had increased because the company had invested in stock control, chip and PIN and rebranding the year before, bringing profit “back to where it should be”, Booth said.

Booths surprised many this July when it waded into the supermarkets’ 50p price war by launching a 50p Price Guarantee on five different vegetable and salads every fortnight in its 26 stores. Last month it announced a buying alliance with Waitrose to negotiate better prices for brands.