Sainsbury's seems to have got its food offering right, by mixing cheaper products with premium goods - its revamped Taste the Difference line is apparently enjoying double-digit growth, and King expects this to accelerate in the run-up to Christmas as we trade up to posher grub. It's also benefiting from our reluctance to pay restaurant prices, a trend that will only continue once we start feeling the fiscal squeeze. King even suggested that popular TV show X-Factor may have been a factor behind its recent success, since more people stay in to eat on a Saturday night while they’re glued to the screen. No accounting for taste, we suppose.
Like-for-likes of 2% are, admittedly, not spectacular (if not to be sniffed at). But new retail space added another 2.8% of sales growth, while non-food sales are now growing at three times the rate of food, and online sales jumped 25%. All in all, this helped Sainsbury's to attract a record 20m customers during the period (1m more than last year). And according to Kantar Worldpanel, it boosted its market share from 15.7% to 15.9% last quarter - the only one of the Big Four to do so. That's also good news for the UK employment figures, since it allowed Sainsbury to add another 2,000 staff to its payroll over the last six months.
So why are its shares down? Well, the main reason seems to be that analysts think they look a little expensive already - and there wasn't enough in today's results to convince them otherwise. King himself admits that things will be 'challenging' in the second half, particularly as a result of the VAT hike. But he hopes that by opening more new stores, and by making further progress online and in non-food, he can more than address any shortfall.
He and Sainsbury's have already been written off several times since the recession started. So don't be surprised if they confound the sceptics again in the coming year.