Tesco's insistence its Fresh & Easy American venture is on track gained some ground this week after the five-month-old chain was said to have gained cult status.

Independent researcher Execution Research, which questioned 700 customers outside nine Fresh & Easy stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix said the chain was the 'new cult retailer' and was already an 'incredible success story'.

Tesco's £250m-a-year US investment has been the subject of constant speculation following reports of empty aisles and low sales densities. In March Tesco announced it was suspending the ambitious store-opening programme after opening 61 stores, but insisted the venture was exceeding expectations. Plans are still in place to open a total of 140 stores by next spring.

Execution confirmed customer numbers were low, with stores watched getting only 20 to 30 shoppers per hour. However the research group said it was confident the chain would expand rapidly to deliver annual sales of $12bn in five years.

Tesco, which will restart its store openings in July with a new branch in Manhattan Beach, California, released the findings of its own customer research last week. It said customers liked the in-store signage and the bright colours inside the shops.

The company said its decision to begin accepting Amex cards in March had generated an over-whelmingly positive response.

Fresh & Easy now plans to launch 250 own-brand products over the next three months following further feedback.