Coal-to-groceries conglomerate Wesfarmers saw its Coles supermarket chain book an increase in third quarter sales today (21 April), showing signs of improvement from a five-year turnaround plan.

The company delivered a 7.6% lift in food and liquor sales to A$5.3bn (US$3.7bn) for the quarter ending 31 March.

Same-store sales at the company’s 760 stores gained 6.6%.

“The quarterly performance was reasonably encouraging,” said Coles managing director Ian McLeod. “The caution I would add is it is still early days in the turnaround.”

McLeod said the growth was driven by an increase in fresh food sales, likely to have been at the expense of speciality retailers, and a rise in customer numbers.

Wesfarmers bought the Coles, Target, Kmart and Officeworks stores in 2007 for A$19bn before the recession hit, and launched a A$5bn plan to grab market share back from top supermarkets rival Woolworths.

Woolworths last week reported a 10% rise in food and liquor to A$8.3bn for the third quarter.