Sainsbury’s underlying profit before tax plunged by 17.9% from £375m to £308m, according to sales figures for the 28 weeks to 26 September 2015.

Like-for-like sales (excluding fuel) were also down 1.6% and market share declined slightly to 16.5%, which the company blamed on the growth of the discounters.

However, Sainsbury’s claimed its premium Taste the Difference range had experienced volume growth of over 2%. It also achieved increases in the online and convenience store sectors. Online grocery sales grew 7% while convenience store sales rose nearly 11% against a backdrop of 37 new convenience stores opening in the half.

Mike Coupe, chief executive at Sainsbury’s, said: “We are making good progress against the strategy we outlined last November. We are delivering volume and transaction growth as customers value our quality improvements and our clearer, simpler message of lower regular prices.

“We continue to run the business efficiently and our cost savings programme is ahead of plan. We now expect savings of around £225m by the end of this financial year and we are on track to deliver our target of £500m cost savings over the next three years.

“The grocery retail marketplace remains challenging but Sainsbury’s is a great business, run by an experienced management team, supported by talented colleagues and strong values. I am confident we are making progress and we are looking forward to a successful Christmas, offering our customers fantastic products and great value.”