Sainsbury’s today (23 March) revealed that its sales growth slowed during its fourth quarter as the UK grocer saw customers “manage their spending carefully”.

The retailer said today that like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, was up 1% during the quarter ended 19 March, down on earlier quarters of the year and against growth of 4.3% in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Recording total sales growth of 3.5%, Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King said, however, that the retailer outperformed the market in the fourth quarter.

Sainsbury’s said that it opened some 193,000 square feet of new space in the quarter, including two replacement stores, one new supermarket, one extension and 21 convenience outlets. King said that it brings gross space growth for the year to 8.5% and 15.9% in the two years to March 2011, “exceeding our 15% target set in 2009”.

For the full year, sales were up 4.9%, excluding fuel, while like-for-like sales rose 2.3%.

King said he expects the consumer environment to “remain tough” with its customers “facing fuel price inflation, uncertain employment prospects and government spending cuts”.

However he added that the retailer has “demonstrated our ability to perform well in these conditions” and that it remains “confident” about its growth plans and believes it is “well-positioned” for growth in 2011/12.

Click here for Sainsbury’s full earnings statement or click here for insight from King into falling levels of consumer confidence.