J Sainsbury has reported sales growth in its third quarter trading statement and predicted further growth in the fourth quarter of the financial year.

Sainsbury, the UK's third largest grocer, said like-for-like sales in the 12 weeks to 31 December, excluding petrol, rose by 5.2%. This figure was above analysts' expectations.

Total like-for-like sales in the third quarter rose by 4.8% for the same period, compared to 2004, as the company enjoyed its best Christmas week to date.

Sainsbury CEO Justin King said: "We are pleased with our trading performance over the past 12 weeks which has resulted in our fourth consecutive quarter of like-for-like sales growth. We delivered a good offer for over 19m customers in Christmas week, the most we have ever served in a single week."

Petrol volumes, year on year, were lower in the third quarter as promotions only ran for four weeks compared to the whole quarter in the previous year.
 
Sainsbury's relaunched the Be Good To Yourself range in January, now comprising nearly 500 products, with an investment of around GBP10m.

Thirteen of the original 14 stores acquired from Morrisons in April 2004 are now in their second year of trading under the Sainsbury's brand and are delivering sales growth averaging over 20%.

Sainsbury's outlook is that sales momentum will allow it to deliver continuing improvements in the customer offer but that additional costs are being incurred as it embeds new processes for long-term and sustainable change in operations. 

It expects the market to remain highly competitive during the fourth quarter and to be up against tougher comparative figures with the annualisation of sales growth under its recovery plan. It is anticipating that the benefits of operational gearing in the business will begin to be delivered in the second half of 2006/07.