Budgens is ramping up its fresh food offer this year with a raft of new products as it continues to drive up fresh participation in its stores. Of 400 new products launching this year, most will be within the fresh category, said development director Mike Taylor. A further 20 hot rotisseries are also planned to add to the existing 18. In the year to April 29, the chain has seen significant sales growth in dairy (+9.2%), produce (+11.6%) and meat (+4.5%). Separately, a space allocation software package has been a significant driver of sales across the business and an essential analytical tool for assessing the performance of individual stores and categories, said Taylor. "We have thermal images of all our stores now, colour coded by sales densities," he added. Budgens has also secured planning permission for a 60,000 sq ft plot next to its distribution centre at Wellingborough to support future expansion. Analysts taken around stores on Wednesday said they were impressed by what they saw. Credit Lyonnais analyst Paul Smiddy said: "Budgens has shown it can run a small store as well as Tesco or Sainsbury. "The store operating standards are extremely high and the gap in terms of range in product development is narrowing all the time. "Budgens' fresh offer is particularly compelling," he added. Like for like sales at Budgens in the year to April 29 were up 5.1%, with total sales up 8.4%. {{NEWS }}