Supermarket chain Wm Morrison on Thursday delivered robust growth in its first quarter as the Bradford-based group reported an 8.2 per cent rise in like-for-like sales excluding fuel and VAT, well ahead of forecasts.

Total sales excluding fuel were up 9.2 per cent. Morrison said that while the strongest growth came from fresh products and its low cost Value range, its range of premium products was continuing to deliver results.

In a statement ahead of the group’s annual meeting, Marc Bolland, chief executive, said: “Our broadening customer appeal saw us welcome half a million more new customers each week to our stores during the first quarter. This is a particularly good result which is on top of the similar level of growth we reported in last year’s first-quarter update.”

This is the sixth consecutive quarter of growth quarter from Morrison, which underwent a period of operational restructuring and brand revamp in 2007 following a difficult period after the acquisition of Safeway in 2004.

The group, the smallest of the UK’s “big four” supermarket chains, said price cuts and promotions had helped it gain market share.

Data from market researchers TNS, published last month, showed Morrison marginally gaining market share in the 12 weeks to May 17, at 11.6 per cent against 11.5 per cent the month before. In the same period in 2008 the company’s market share was 11.4 per cent. According to the same data, Morrison was the fastest growing of the big four grocers in the UK.

Morrison has indicated its willingness to add store space after integrating 38 stores acquired in December from Co-op. Two of those rebranded outlets have already opened.

Analysts said the sales performance marked a strong start to the year and Morrison shares gained 5p or 2 per cent to 252½p in afternoon London trading.

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