Waitrose, the upscale supermarket chain belonging to department store operator John Lewis recorded a rise in sales in the first half of 2005. John Lewis said food retail had avoided most of the downturn in other sectors.

Waitrose sales reached £1.6bn, an 18% underpinned by market-beating like-for-like growth of 4.4% (excluding petrol), the company said.

“There’s been some growth in the grocery sector – and Waitrose has been one of the pacesetters in picking up share in these conditions,” said John Lewis chairman, Sir Stuart Hampson. “It’s non-food retailing which has borne the brunt of the downturn.”

Inflation returned to the market as a whole, but pricing continued to be fiercely competitive within the multiples. As our major competitors continue to jostle for position the polarisation of performance became more obvious, and we again demonstrated the power behind our own differentiated offer in the market, both in existing trading areas and in locations where we have introduced new choice through our branch openings, the company said.

We saw excellent growth at the former Safeway branches purchased from MORRISON’s in 2004, as well as from new and relocated branches at Droitwich, Hersham and Wallingford. With over 50% sales now coming from outside the Home Counties, we have amply demonstrated the broad appeal of a quality fresh food operator.

Our growing market share has been driven across all fresh food categories, but was particularly strong in Fruit and Vegetables. We also gained share in ready meals, supported by the launch of the “As Good As Going Out” range and the relaunch of “Perfectly Balanced”. As consumers show increasing concern about healthy eating, traceability and animal husbandry the Waitrose reputation for strong links with farmers and food suppliers continues to win us new customers. Extra selling space in some of our newer branches is enabling us to extend non-food ranges, including those sourced by our John Lewis buyers, but we remain firmly focused on being food specialists.