UK grocery retailer Somerfield said its first half operating profit rose to £7.9m (US$12.7m) compared with £5.6m in the year-earlier period, beating analysts’ expectations.

The group, which operates Somerfield and Kwik Save stores, said its gross and net margins remained stable during the first half to 9 November.

Somerfield, which has been trying to revamp its image with store makeovers, said like-for-like sales grew 2.1% in the first ten weeks of the second half.

Chairman John von Spreckelsen said the company was watching the bidding battle for rival Safeway with great interest, reported Reuters.