Revenue growth of 0.3% might not sound spectacular, especially when it comes alongside a 1.1% dip in like-for-like sales. But Sainsbury's latest results, published this morning, seem to have been a pleasant surprise for investors - the supermarket's share price shot up by 14% to 261.4p this morning.
That shows just how much expectations have fallen for Britain's big supermarkets. In the face of new competitors and fickle consumers, nobody expects Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco to grow much anymore, for the time being at least. Even that 14% jump leaves Sainsbury's way down on the 414p it hit less than two years ago.
Nonetheless it is standing out from the crowd. Sainsbury's volume sales and total transaction numbers are up. It's the only major supermarket that's growing and the only one that has retained its market share compared to this time last year, according to Kantar Worldpanel's latest grocery figures. It has even decided it can afford to give staff an inflation-busting payrise.
'Whilst the market is clearly still challenging, with food deflation impacting many categories, we are making good progress on delivering our strategy,' said its chief executive Mike Coupe, who boasted of the improved 'ripeness and quality of our avocados' - just one of the 3,000 products he said the supermarket is improving.
This relatively good performance is the result of several factors, not least its price cuts. It has also been less damaged than its competitors by changes in consumer habits having focused on convenience stores (a net 34 have been opened in the last three months alone) and beefing up its digital business. Online grocery orders are up 15% and it has launched a new clothes shopping site and expanded click and collect to a total of 52 stores.
'Sainsbury’s remains one of the best among a bad bunch – Asda and Morrisons being way behind on like-for-like performance,' said David Gray, an analyst at Planet Retail. 'It also has some key attributes that will stand it in good stead going forward – a sizeable and growing convenience business, fewer very large hypermarkets than its rivals and a still-effective loyalty scheme in Nectar. '
Things may be looking up for Sainsbury's, however marginally. But with Aldi and Lidl on the march and no sign of an end to food deflation, the grocer has a lot of obstacles to navigate before it can claim to have survived the supermarket rout.