New food ranges, extra customer care and better use of shopper data are aiding Sainsbury's recovery, according to chief executive Sir Peter Davis. Customer numbers jumped from 9.8 million last year to 10.8 million, which he said were both new and lapsed customers, often attracted by the chain's push to offer quality food and drink. His comments came as the group revealed sales figures up 5.9% to £18.4bn (from £17.4m last year) for the year to 31 March. Underlying group pre-tax profit slumped to £549m (down from £580m last year), however the chain revealed a promising 21% jump in second half operating profit in its supermarket business. Sir Peter said quality food was proving a winner at Sainsbury and had helped to grow sales. Its Taste the Difference range is now the chain's bestselling brand with sales of the 410 lines running at about £5m a week. A further 60 products will be launched by mid-summer. The recently launched Blue Parrot Cafe kids' range will have another 75 products added to the current 150, while sales are reportedly running ahead of forecasts. Sir Peter said the chain would consider launching more such speciality ranges. Store merchandising and stocking was also key, according to Sir Peter, who said Sainsbury went further than its competitors to utilise shopper data gleaned from its Reward Card. "We are working hard to understand people's buying habits. In one store we found that 60% of shoppers were foodies' so this meant tailoring the range to include more speciality food lines. "And if we find there are lots of families in a catchment area it will result in a bigger kids' food range at the store." A programme for Delivering Great Service was also being rolled out across the supermarket business which aimed to encourage staff to be proactive and "exceed customer expectations". l Sir Peter Pushes On, p28 {{NEWS }}