The grocer posted like-for-like sales up 6.7 per cent, excluding fuel, for the three weeks to January 5.
Chief executive Paul Mason said: “Lapsed customers came back to us over Christmas. We knew that, when they tried us again, they would have seen cleaner and brighter stores and new ranges.”
Mason declined to comment on mounting speculation that 900-store Somerfield, which is thought to be for sale, may receive a bid.
A source close to the retailer confirmed that two of the big four supermarkets have “expressed an interest” in acquiring it recently and that the price tag would be more than£1.8 billion.
But one City analyst, who asked to remain anonymous, said a bid during the tail-end of the Competition Commission’s grocery inquiry – and with credit markets in turmoil – seemed unlikely.
If an offer was forthcoming, he said his money would be on the Co-operative Group (Retail Week, last week) rather than one of the big four, but a bid from Sainsbury’s, Asda or Morrisons could not be ruled out entirely.
Mason revealed that Somerfield will extend its home deliveries from 350 stores to 650 before 2009. It is piloting the extended service in 40 stores in two regions. “It is a big growth opportunity,” he said.
He added that Somerfield’s EBITDA for the financial year ending this April would be higher than the£227 million it achieved last year, but he declined to say by how much. “We are exceeding our internal targets set with our shareholders,” he said.
Since Somerfield was taken private by a consortium comprising Robert Tchenguiz, Apax and Barclays Capital, it has overhauled its store estate, product offer, branding, logistics and IT.