Sainsbury's availability levels were given a big boost over Christmas by a new system introduced late last year, The Grocer can reveal.

In The Grocer 33 half-year review published last month, Sainsbury's had climbed from last place in the availability rankings to first. The retailer credited much of the improvement over Christmas to Gap Busters, a fast-track replenishing system that enables individual stores to order and receive fast-selling products on the same date.

The system allowed stores to respond quickly to gaps in shelves and was available seven days a week for any product, said a store manager. “If an item is selling quicker than expected, staff can put in an urgent request for it to be delivered within 24 hours,” added a spokeswoman.

A store manager said that although he did not have to use Gap Busters often, it had proved particularly effective during busy periods in the run up to Christmas. “Gap Busters helped my store achieve one of the best Christmases ever,” he said.

The retailer’s strong availability was reflected in its Christmas trading update last week. It reported total sales up 5.3% and like-for-likes up 4.5% for the 13 weeks to 3 January.

The Gap Busters service is the latest tool introduced by Sainsbury's to improve availability.

Last year it made changes to its logistics network and introduced new supply management processes and technology in store, including IT that recognises when an item is out of stock and notifies staff.

Further improvements would be made, said Sainsbury's director of retail and logistics, Roger Burnley.

In a company news letter, chief executive Justin King praised staff for their role. “Our supply chain colleagues did a fantastic job, moving huge volumes of stock around the country to help make sure we had great availability for our customers,” he said.

The retailer’s availability level jumped from 96.3% to 98.2% in the six months to December, according to The Grocer 33 half-year review.