Winn-Dixie Stores has reported a US$24.6m operating loss for the quarter ended 20 September, a considerable improvement on the $552.5m loss posted for the comparable period of last year. The struggling US retailer is still awaiting approval from the bankruptcy court for its reorganisation plan.

Net sales increased 2.4% and same store sales were up 5.1%, due primarily to the impact of hurricane Katrina, Winn-Dixie said. Sales totalled $1.6bn.

The retailer suggested that stores affected by the hurricane reported substantially higher sales because of reduced competition, the influx of relief and construction workers to the area and population shifts to less-affected areas.

Identical sales were also up due to increased sales per customer visit, the company revealed. “We believe the increase in average sales per visit is due to improved store execution and customer service, the introduction of merchandising initiatives, including pricing and promotional programs, and new brand marketing initiatives,” Winn-Dixie said in its filing.

Admitting that competition remained the main factor holding back sales, Winn-Dixie said that it expects identical sales for the remainder of fiscal 2007 to be positive, but lower that the 5.1% increase reported in this period.
As a percentage of sales, gross margin increased 30 basis points during the quarter thanks to improved shrink results, although this was partially off-set by increased promotional activity.