Sainsbury’s has posted like-for-like sales growth of 1%, excluding fuel, for the fourth quarter but warned of “tough” times ahead.

Total sales for the 10 weeks to 19 March were up 3.5% excluding fuel. Full-year like-for-like sales were up 2.3% excluding fuel.

Chief executive Justin King insisted that the fourth-quarter growth was not down solely to the January hike in VAT to 20%.

He said Sainsbury's had delayed implementing the government's increase in a bid to help shoppers, meaning the 1% fourth-quarter figure represented a genuine like-for-like improvement.

King also said the supermarket had served a record 21 million customers per week in the past year – up by a million on the previous 12 months.

But he warned that he expected the “consumer environment to remain tough, with our customers facing fuel price inflation, uncertain employment prospects and government spending cuts”.

King said: “We have demonstrated our ability to perform well in these conditions and are confident that our growth plans and universal customer appeal, supported by Nectar and coupon at till, mean we are well-positioned for further growth.”

The results come after Sainsbury's emerged as a clear winner over the Christmas period, with like-for-like sales up 3.6% in the 14 weeks to 8 January, easily outstripping the growth of its big four rivals.

Read more
Sainsbury's King warns Treasury of double-dip danger (3 March 2011)
Sainsbury’s claims Christmas win after beating the weather (15 January 2011)