Morrisons, the UK's number four grocer, is showing signs of a recovery under chief executive Marc Bolland. Revamped stores, a focus on provenance and ad campaigns including 1960s singer Lulu seem to have caught the eye of UK shoppers. Has Bolland, formerly of Heineken, brewed the perfect recipe for Morrisons? Dean Best reports.

Until now, Morrisons, the UK's fourth-largest food retailer, has suffered from a somewhat dowdy image.

Morrisons, based in the northern English town of Bradford, did not move out of its heartland until 1998, when it opened its first store in the south of the country.

And the retailer admits that it has not had a clear image in the eyes of UK consumers, a problem perhaps exacerbated as the company digested the 2004 acquisition of Safeway.

The UK grocery sector is renowned the world over for being one of the most competitive in the world and, as Morrisons was integrating the Safeway business, there were fears that the company would lose pace with a resurgent Sainsbury's and Asda and the market leader, Tesco.

However, under the stewardship of chief executive Marc Bolland (pictured), there are signs that the business is recovering.

Bolland joined Morrisons last year from Heineken and in the last 12 months, he has put the brand and marketing skills he gained at the Dutch brewing giant to good effect.

Morrisons has decided to lean heavily on UK consumers' growing interest in the provenance of food. Under its Market Street concept, Morrisons claims to make and prepare a wider range of food in-store than its competitors.

And that concept, combined with a store revamp and advertising campaigns featuring UK celebrities like ex-footballer Alan Hansen and Scottish singer Lulu, seems to have attracted a growing number of consumers.

This week, Morrisons said sales had accelerated during its third quarter, results that supported market estimates that the retailer has been slowly regaining share this year.

Morrisons' third-quarter figures encouraged the City who said the numbers endorsed Bolland's strategy. Nevertheless, the 48-year-old Dutchman remains cautious - if optimistic - about the potential for a revitalised Morrisons.

"Although we are still at an early stage in our three-year optimisation plan, I am delighted with the progress that has been made. We are on-track to deliver our vision of being the food specialist for everyone."

The figures will certainly give Morrisons, perhaps until now the most maligned of the UK's "big four" grocers, a welcome shot in the arm. Nevertheless, how Morrisons performs during the key Christmas period will give the industry a clearer indication of the outlook for the business.

As one analyst said this week: "This is a good performance, although the real ball game begins from now."