Morrisons, the UK's fourth-largest grocer, today (4 December) signalled that it is benefiting from the economic downturn after posting an 8.1% rise in third-quarter like-for like sales.

In a trading update, the company said like-for-like sales, which strip out sales from new stores, rose 8.1% excluding fuel in the 13 weeks to 2 November.

The figures confirmed that sales growth at Morrisons is outpacing that seen at Tesco, the UK's largest grocer, which earlier this week said its third-quarter like-for-like sales had risen 2%.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said: "In this challenging economic environment more customers than ever before are choosing Morrisons. Our industry leading deals and unique fresh food offer have attracted over seven hundred thousand new customers to our stores."

Morrisons, meanwhile, also announced that it had struck a deal to buy 38 stores from fellow UK retailer The Co-operative Group for GBP223.1m (US$323.9m).

The acquisition of the Co-operative Food and former Somerfield stores comes as the Co-op looks to find buyers for at least 126 outlets to win competition approval for its GBP1.6bn purchase of Somerfield.

Morrisons said the deal would add over 500,000 square foot to its store network and added that the outlets would "fit very well" with its existing 150 smaller stores.

The transaction is dependent on the Co-op winning approval from the Office of Fair Trading, which had ordered the retailer to sell off 126 stores to address competition concerns.

Morrisons said it expects the handover of the stores to start early next year and the conversion of the outlets to take six months to complete.