Chief executive Sir Terry Leahy said: “I am pleased with the progress on non-food as a category against a headwind of a more cautious consumer. Non-food sales grew faster than the core business, profitability was strong and we grew market share in most categories.”
For the year to February 23, Tesco delivered an 11.8 per cent uplift in group underlying profit to£2.85 billion and total sales up 11.1 per cent to£51.8 billion.
His comments came as Retail Week learned that Tesco is developing a worldwide strategy for clothing. It also plans to introduce additional clothing brands to sit alongside its existing ones – F&F, Cherokee, Stonebay, True and Petite.
Leahy said: “Although clothing sales were particularly affected by the bad summer last year, they were up 6 per cent in a flat market, so we did grow share.”
In other categories, Tesco delivered 31 per cent sales growth in consumer electronics, 20 per cent in DIY and 29 per cent in sports equipment. The grocer also revealed that sales for Tesco Direct, its combined non-food catalogue and web site offer, were above forecast at£180 million.
In the UK, Tesco delivered like-for-like sales up 3.5 per cent, excluding petrol. For the first five weeks of its new financial year, UK like-for-likes climbed 4 per cent, excluding petrol and including price inflation of 1.5 per cent.
Leahy also mounted a robust defence of its fledgling Fresh & Easy convenience store chain in the US. This month, Tesco revealed it had halted the roll-out of Fresh & Easy temporarily, but Leahy said its trading densities were well above the US grocery average.
He said: “We are a few weeks into what I believe is a project that will last a generation. I am very encouraged by what I see – it is going to be much better than we could have expected, but of course it is too early to make definitive judgements.”
Leahy dismissed speculation that brand-hungry Americans were not keen on the high proportion of Fresh & Easy own-label products sold in stores.
“What we have seen is remarkable demand for Fresh & Easy own-label; more than we planned for and more popular than other products.”
Tesco’s international trading profit jumped 24.3 per cent to£701 million and overseas sales rocketed 25.3 per cent to£13.8 billion.