Sainsbury’s is to hire 150 staff to support its burgeoning non-food operation.

The drive is part of the grocer’s strategy to increase its sales by£3.5 billion – a third of which will come from non-food, which will account for half of new space.

The staff, including buyers, packaging design and technology specialists, product designers, merchandisers and planners, will be based in Coventry. Last August, Sainsbury’s unveiled plans to complete the move of its general merchandise operation to Coventry by January 2009.

Sainsbury’s head of general merchandise Richard Jones said: “Recruiting 150 people to our non-food team shows how important non-food growth is to us. We have ambitious plans and we have put into place the necessary capabilities and infrastructure to ensure we can deliver.”

By 2010, Sainsbury’s will have 60 stores with sales floors of more than 55,000 sq ft, which will each have more than 15,000 sq ft dedicated to non-food.

Tu clothing is the jewel in Sainsbury’s non-food crown and is on track to hit sales of more than£300 million this year.

Last week, Retail Week reported that Sainsbury’s plans to launch a combined non-food and web site offer to take on Tesco and Asda. However, Sainsbury’s said no firm plans were in place.

Retail Knowledge Bank senior partner Robert Clark said that it made sense for Sainsbury’s to expand its online non-food operation, because of the relatively smaller size of its stores compared with Asda and Tesco.