MASSMART grew sales 15,5% to R61,2bn in the 52 weeks to June 24, boosted by Makro and its newly acquired Rhino stores, the retailer said in a sales update released yesterday.

"Anyone who can print 15% plus sales growth in these times is certainly well placed. Whether or not we're going to see a repeat of this next year is the question," said Sasha Naryshkine, analyst at Vestact.

Sales at Masswarehouse, which operates its Makro warehouse stores, increased 20,1%, faster than the group's overall 15,5% gain for the period, the company said yesterday.

Sales at Makro stores open a year or longer increased 11,6%, more than the group average of 9,6%. Inflation over the period was 1,9%, the company said.

"All their businesses have done relatively well but Makro did exceptionally well. Its performance indicates that during tougher times people are looking for discounts," he said.

Local consumers are under pressure as a result of escalating utility, food and transport costs, and a lack of job creation in Africa's biggest economy.

Massdiscounters saw sales rise 11% in the year and 4,4% at stores open a year or longer.

Reuben Beelders, portfolio manager at Gryphon, said the numbers were in line with expectation. "I don't think they are fantastic, but I was impressed by Massbuild. It was one of the divisions that was under pressure and I'm glad they're putting that right," Mr Beelders said.

In Massbuild - which trades in DIY, home improvement and builders hardware under the Builders Warehouse, Builders Express and Builders Trade Depot brands - sales rose 13% including new outlets, and 9,3% excluding new stores.

Meanwhile, Massmart's food wholesale business Masscash saw an increase in sales of 16,5% including new stores, and 11,6% at stores open a year or longer.

"Total sales growth has been boosted by the inclusion of Rhino Cash & Carry," the company said. The acquisition of Rhino, which the group says will increase its total annualised retail cash and carry sales to about R5bn, comprises 14 stores and was effective on March 1. Rhino stores are mainly involved in the retail of groceries and liquor to low-income customers in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Masscash also houses the Cambridge Food retail unit, through which the Massmart aims to push its ambitious food strategy of a R20bn food retail business within five years. Its vision to grow in the low-income market and rural areas through Cambridge Foods means head-on competition for rival Shoprite.

Global retail giant Walmart acquired a 51% stake of Massmart last year. Walmart's entrance into the local market saw competitors scrambling to step up efficiencies in the retail space.

Massmart's full-year results are due on August 22.

mooradz@bdfm.co.za