Tesco boss Dave Lewis has hailed “strong progress” as it reported a sharp rise in first-half profits to £562m and resumed dividend payments in the latest sign of its turnaround.
Britain’s biggest supermarket said it had been able to hold back the scale of price increases compared to its rivals in the face of inflationary pressure in a “challenging” market.
Interim results for the six months to 26 August also however showed UK sales growth stuttering, as it slipped back to 2.1% in the second quarter compared to 2.3% in the previous three months.
Shares in the FTSE 100 giant opened 2% higher.
The half-year profit figure for Tesco was nearly eight times the £71m reported in the same period last year when the company was hit by a series of one-off costs.
But even on the company’s preferred headline measure stripping out these items, earnings rose 27%.
The performance was enough for Tesco to announce that it would resume dividend payments to shareholders for the first time since the 2014/15 financial year.
Chief executive Dave Lewis said the business was “continuing to make strong progress”.
He added: “Our offer is more competitive and more customers are shopping at Tesco.
“Today’s announcement that we are resuming our dividend reflects our confidence that we can build on our strong performance to date.”
Mr Lewis, a former Unilever executive, was appointed three years ago after a period when Tesco has been suffering sliding sales and profits.
The latest figures are likely to be seen as another milestone as he leads the business to recovery amid fierce competition with rivals in a market that has been shaken up by the advance of discounters Aldi and Lidl.
At the same time, retailers face a battle to maintain competitive prices at a time when their import costs have been rising sharply following the fall in the pound since last year’s Brexit vote.
Tesco said: “Market conditions have been challenging with inflationary pressure being felt throughout the half but we have worked hard with our supplier partners to minimise price increases for customers.
“Our overall sales inflation in the half was around 1% less than the rest of the market, helping us become even more competitive.”
Tesco highlighted the performance of its fresh food ranges where it said it was outperforming the market and also said it was scaling back short-term price promotions in household and general merchandise categories.
The results come as Tesco awaits the findings of an in-depth probe by the Competition and Markets Authority into its planned £3.7bn takeover of wholesale giant Booker.