Budgens' new site acquisition team is targeting 20 new sites a year, four times its traditional annual growth rate of about five new stores. Budgens chief executive Martin Hyson said he was confident the company could sustain its aggressive expansion programme for "some years" despite heavy competition for smaller sites as the multiples enter the convenience arena. The team is widening its net and looking as far afield as Manchester, Devon and Somerset for new stores. A group acquisition was unlikely as there was no obvious candidate fitting the Budgens profile, said Hyson. Budgens is "on course" to reach its target of 50 stores trading as Budgens Local by the summer, said Hyson. "We have 29 now and a further 11 will come onstream by the end of the [financial] year." It was too early to comment on trials of new retail concepts by its main shareholder Musgrave at stores in Burton Latimer and Sandy. However, Hyson confirmed the two were starting to consolidate procurement costs to give the pair added leverage with suppliers. Pretax profit for the 28 weeks to November 11 rose 13.3% to £9.8m on sales up 9.4% to £279.3m. But like-for-like sales at the 234 strong chain slipped from 5.5% in the half year to November 11 to 4% in the first eight weeks of the second half. But Hyson said sales were traditionally slower for the chain at Christmas. Comparisons with the multiples were "unhelpful" given Budgens does not have a comparable non food offer. Budgens is continuing to experiment with new merchandising units and ranges to enhance its hot food offer as it refurbishes its estate, And the chain is working on a major systems overhaul to introduce sales based ordering across its estate by spring 2003. {{NEWS }}