Tesco outstrips retail rivals with Christmas sales rise

LONDON (Reuters) - Tesco TSCO.L, Britain's biggest supermarket group, rode out a "subdued" Christmas to lift UK sales by 0.1%, enough to beat its main rivals amid the toughest high street conditions in years.

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen outside a Tesco extra superstore near Manchester, Britain January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Chief Executive Dave Lewis said Tesco’s UK stores delivered the best operational performance of his five-year tenure.

“That combination of a compelling offer delivered brilliantly well and helped us to outperform the market even against a challenging backdrop,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Tesco sold more food on Dec. 23 than on any other day in its 100-year-old history, Lewis said, with 890,000 customers served in a single peak hour of trading.

Britain's biggest supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's SBRY.L, Walmart WMT.N owned Asda and Morrisons MRW.L - recorded the lowest sales growth over the Christmas trading period for five years, industry data has shown.

Shoppers have been cautious in 2019 as wage growth slowed and political uncertainty gripped the country.

A resounding election victory for Boris Johnson in December broke the deadlock, but it did not release any pent-up demand, Lewis said.

Tesco, which has a 27.4% share of Britain’s grocery market, also updated on trading in the third quarter period before Christmas, when life-for-like sales fell by 0.4%, before customers returned to stores for Christmas.

Shares in Tesco were trading up 2% at 1000 GMT, as analysts at Jefferies said the return to like-for-like sales growth was an encouraging sign of sustainable progress in the UK.

“The peak Christmas trading period in the UK has been a bit of a slog for the major grocers,” Shore Capital said, adding that Tesco had “given a solid report”.

The retailer said it performed well in fresh food and had seen a very positive reaction to its new Clubcard Plus loyalty scheme, which entitles shoppers to discounts in return for a 7.99 pound monthly subscription.

Tesco’s fifth consecutive Christmas of growth sets it up for the year ahead, when Lewis will step down after he revitalised the retailer since taking over in 2014.

He will be replaced by Ken Murphy, a former executive at healthcare group Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Tesco said in December it had received interest in its businesses in Thailand and Malaysia, but on Thursday said it had no update on the process.

Editing by Kate Holton/Guy Faulconbridge/Alexander Smith