Discounter Poundland is set to embark on an aggressive expansion programme, with plans to sell more top grocery brands and - for the first time - healthy foods.

The nationwide chain, which is headed by ex-Sainsbury's Convenience boss Jim McCarthy, is to open 75 more stores in the next three years to take its estate to 228. Fifteen will open this year, 30 in 2008 and 30 more the following year.

In an exclusive interview, McCarthy said he believed that with interest rates and inflation rising, and uncertainty over jobs increasing, the time was right for Poundland - which sells everything for a quid - to thrive.

"Our food and drink multibuys are very popular, particularly in university towns, because students know how to make their money go further," he said.

"But increasingly, as disposable income goes down, more and more customers will be looking for ways to save money."

Besides opening more stores, key to McCarthy's strategy is a decision to list more brands in its food and drink range, which features staple groceries, including confectionery, soft drinks, cakes and biscuits, tea and coffee, and tins and packets.

"Top brands provide a halo effect to the rest of the products," he said.

"We may also consider introducing chilled food but are currently concentrating on expanding tins and packets. We are also about to introduce a range of health foods in premium packaging - items such as dried fruit, nuts and seeds."

Another initiative that McCarthy believes will send sales soaring is the introduction of chip and PIN in all stores by September.

"We are currently a cash-only business, and on a daily basis customers bring full baskets to the till,only to find cards aren't accepted.

"We also know the average basket price goes up three times when a debit or credit card is used and at the moment ours is just £4.

"In addition, we are looking into contactless card systems. We think these developments will be hugely uplifting for our sales."WHO SHOPS AT POUNDLAND?

Research for Poundland by HIM found that 73% of the chain's 1.7 million shoppers a week were women and - despite its positioning as a discounter - 10% of its customers were A/Bs.

"This was surprising," said MD Jim McCarthy. "It demonstrates that everybody loves value."

The survey found that food was ranked as the most frequently purchased product group in Poundland, followed by household cleaning products. McCarthy added: "It is clear that customers love us. Out of those surveyed, 95% of people said they'd recommend us to a friend. I said 'why wouldn't the other 5%?' and they told me only 1% said they wouldn't - 4% said they didn't know.

"Well over 60% of customers know they're going to shop with us when they leave home. And 48% have shopped with us for more than a year."