UK multiple retailer J Sainsbury today [Friday] said that fourth quarter sales are growing healthily, with same-store sales excluding petrol up 6.8% year-on-year, when adjusted to exclude the impact of an early Easter.

Total sales growth for the year to 30 March came in at 7.8%, while UK like-for-like sales growth adjusted for Easter was 6%.

The group's market share inched up 0.1% to 117% from a year ago, according to figures from research company Taylor Nelson Sofres. CEO Peter Davies said the group had been gradually regaining market share over the last six months after some five and a half years of declining share.

In the US, where Sainsbury's operates the Shaw's supermarket chain, same-store sales rose 4.9% while total sales for the same period climbed 9.1%. Over the 12 months ended 30 March, total sales rose 8.2% while same-store sales eased up 3.9%.

Davies said the results indicate the company's fifth consecutive quarter of strong like-for-like sales, and "demonstrate a sustained step change in our UK supermarkets sales performance. This is clear evidence that our strategy of upgrading our store portfolio combined with offering outstanding quality and great service at competitive prices is being well received by our customers".

The results largely exceeded analysts' expectations, although some were sceptical that the growth rate could be maintained. Clive Black of Charterhouse Securities reiterated his "hold" recommendation, while UBS Warburg kept its "buy" rating.

Davies conceded that its market share was not growing as fast as Tesco or ASDA, words that will perhaps appease Tesco finance director Andrew Higginson, who earlier this week accused Davies of distorting market share data to exaggerate its market share growth.

To view the Sainsbury's press statement on its results, click here.