Bid target Somerfield has reported a 6.7% increase in like-for-like sales for the three weeks to 5 January.

Paul Mason, CEO of the chain, which has been put up for sale by its owners Robert Tchenguiz, Barclays Capital, Apax and Kaupthing Bank, said Somerfield had an “exceptional” Christmas.

“Our strong like-for-like sales reflects the turnaround in the business and our clear focus on delivering the local grocery offer our customers want,” he added.

The figures came as investment bank JPMorgan published research yesterday arguing that Somerfield was worth closer to £1.4bn than the £2.5bn being touted.

Somerfield made fewer sales per square foot when compared with big chains and had a relatively low quality store estate, according to the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, sources close to the chain told The Times that Somerfield's advisers were trying to encourage trade buyers to team up and bid for the whole group.

“There's no way private equity would want to take bits of it,” the source told the paper. “They'd want the whole and right now they can't afford it.”