Waitrose has given its strongest hint yet that it is interested in buying a "chunk" of the Somerfield portfolio.

MD Mark Price told The Grocer this week that if it bought part of the 900-store chain, it would reach its target of doubling sales to £8bn in the next 10 years earlier than that.

"If we were able to get the chunk of Somerfield we really wanted, we'd get there more quickly," he said.

However, he stressed that Waitrose's main focus was still on organic growth. "We've really beefed up the property team and what we've got is really strong organic growth stretching out for the next five years," he said. "We've also made no secret of the fact we are looking for different-sized shops for Waitrose. We're considering how small we can go while still keeping our quality standards," he said. "You'll see us experiment with different size store formats in the next year."

Waitrose announced sales were up 6.8% to £3.95bn for the year to 26 January, with like-for-like sales up 3.65%. Operating profit grew from £176.9m to £312.1m.

Waitrose is understood to have submitted a joint bid for Somerfield with the Co-operative Group.