Centra, the expanding Musgrave-owned Irish franchise chain, achieved record sales of €1.38bn in the Irish Republic last year, a 15.1% increase on 2006.

Like-for-like sales were up 8.1% compared with overall Irish retail growth of 7%.

Centra said it planned to invest €45m to open 44 stores this year and spend €20m on refurbishing its 80 existing outlets. Centra stores employ 13,000 people and the move would create 1,000 jobs, predicted Donal Horgan, MD of Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland.

Horgan, who described the Irish convenience market as "extremely competitive", claimed a third of the 47 new stores added last year were defectors from competing symbol groups.

However, he also said it wasn't all one-way traffic as some Centra retailers had switched sides. He attributed the latest sales growth to "the repositioning of the Centra brand around the concept of 'Bright Ideas for Everyday Living', with new developments in fresh food and services".

"We have worked hard with our retail partners to expand our fresh food offer by extending the Good to Go range and introducing Simply Cook," he said.

"As the results show, these developments are meeting the needs of health-conscious, but time pressed shoppers."