The Co-operative Group has reported a 17 per cent rise in first-half profits to £229m, driven by its acquisition of Somerfield and strong growth in its food business.

The retailer reported like-for-like food sales up 7.3 per cent, excluding VAT and petrol. The figures are ahead of its main rivals with Tesco and Sainsbury’s last week reporting rises of 3.7 per cent and 5.7 per cent respectively.

Co-operative chief executive Peter Marks said the group’s concentration on “value and values” rather than price alone has helped it win market share.

The group said sales of its value range, relaunched in March, were up almost 80 per cent year-on-year and Fairtrade products showed growth of 35 per cent.

The group has sold 200 of the 400 Somerfield shops it bought to meet competition rules and has converted 29 to Co-op stores.

The group said that although it had not yet been affected by the recession to the same degree as its rivals. “we do expect the latter part of 2009 to be challenging for a number of our businesses”.

The group’s pharmacy business performed well in “challenging” markets, said Marks, along with its funerals, electricals and travel arms. Co-operative Pharmacy raised operating profits 8.7 per cent to £14.8 million.

Marks added: “In spite of our recent success, it would be naive to think that we are immune to the recession. That said we are pleased with our half-year performance, the second half has started well and we look ahead to the future with renewed confidence.”