UK supermarket group Wm Morrison has reported a 14.8% rise in total sales for the 15 weeks to 16 May compared to the year-ago period, or 13.9% excluding petrol.

On a like-for-like basis, sales rose 8.9% in the first 15 weeks of the financial year, compared to the year-ago period, while like-for-like sales excluding petrol rose 8.5%. Food sales were up 13.6%, or 8.3% on a like-for-like basis.

During the period under review the company said it opened new stores in Kilmarnock, Hartlepool and Wetherby, and converted Safeway stores in Chester, Leeds, Ripon and Southport to the Morrison format.

However, Morrison said sales at Safeway were still declining, falling 4.0% from October 2003 to 7 March 2004.

“We have begun to reduce prices and by 16 May 7,500 prices in Safeway had been cut,” Morrison said. “Sales volumes have improved but not yet sufficiently to compensate for the lower prices.”

Sales in the ten weeks from 8 March to 16 May were down 5.2%, or 7.3% excluding petrol, but the decline in customer numbers has slowed slightly to 7.1%.

“The prime reason for the acquisition of Safeway was to convert the larger stores to the Morrison format and it is proposed that this rollout will commence in the second half of the year,” the company said.

“We have, however, already completed the conversion of 4 stores in areas where we have decided to sell the old Morrison store as part of the divestment process insisted on by the OFT at the time of our takeover,” it continued, adding that the result of the conversions had been encouraging.

In comparison with the 13 weeks immediately prior to conversion, average weekly sales from these stores since re-opening are up individually between 19% and 88% and overall by 40%.