Coles is not showing any sign of improvement fatigue, posting its fastest sales growth in two years on the fifth anniversary of its purchase by Wesfarmers.
And management is looking to squeeze even more earnings from the once-ailing supermarket chain through better supply arrangements and store refurbishments.
Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder said there were no signs of any loss of momentum by Coles as it looked to win more customers from larger rival Woolworths and appeal to shoppers visiting discount stores such as Aldi.
"My expectations are that the team [at Coles] will continue to innovate, look at ways we can improve the offer to our customers through better stores, better products, better value and also look at how we can continue to be more efficient in what we do," Mr Goyder said. "We know there is a fair way to go, but I would want to say I think [Coles managing director] Ian McLeod and his team - it is close to five years - have done an exceptional job."
From the underperforming business Wesfarmers bought five years ago, plagued by broken cash registers, dirty stores and wonky trolleys, the supermarket chain on Thursday had its fastest quarterly sales growth in two years. Its food and liquor division recorded third-quarter sales of $6.49 billion, up 6.6 per cent, and like-for-like sales rose 5.3 per cent.
It was the best growth rate by Coles since the third quarter of 2011.
Coles achieved its 16th consecutive quarter of growth in like-for-like sales and has outperformed Woolworths' same-store food and liquor sales growth for 15 consecutive quarters. Last week Woolworths said its Australian food and liquor division had increased sales by 5.6 per cent to $9.945 billion, although its Australian store network is 50 per cent bigger than Coles'.
Total sales for Coles, which combines its food and liquor business as well as convenience stores, increased 6.4 per cent to $8.35 billion in the quarter. Across Wesfarmers, total sales in key retail businesses covering Bunnings, Target, Kmart and Officeworks rose 5.7 per cent to $12.17 billion.
Mr McLeod said good comparative sales growth was driven by strong volume growth. But its liquor arm was a 0.6 per cent drag on sales.
The supermarket chain recorded overall food and liquor price deflation of 1.30 per cent in the third quarter, with price deflation of 1.70 per cent for the financial year to date.
Coles opened four supermarkets and closed three, taking the number of stores to 754. Coles also completed eight refurbishments, bringing the number of supermarkets to undergo renewal to 313.
The struggling Target general merchandise store, which recently appointed its third boss in two years, posted sales of $699 million for the quarter, up 1 per cent, with same-store sales growth of 1.9 per cent.
The chain continued to face tough trading, hit by sales declines across electrical and entertainment categories and a swollen seasonal inventory, up 16 per cent, forcing it to dump stock at discounted prices. This is expected to erode its trading result in the final quarter.
The poor performance was in contrast to Kmart. It continues to shine under managing director Guy Russo, with quarterly sales up 3.6 per cent to $842 million. Like-for-like sales were 3 per cent higher.
Bunnings increased total quarterly sales by 6.7 per cent to $1.858 billion, while like-for-like sales rose 4 per cent.