Supermarket group Morrisons – which last night scooped the In-store Bakery of the Year accolade at the Baking Industry Awards – has unveiled an 8% rise in underlying profit.

Despite a challenging trading environment, which the Bradford-based chain expects to continue for “some time to come”, underlying profits in the six months to 31 July lifted to £442m from £410m.

Morrisons said it was the fifth year in a row it had outperformed the rest of the grocery market, as its half-year turnover jumped by 7.4% to £8.7bn and like-for-like sales increased by 2.2% over the period.

Profit before tax was £449m, up from £412m,

The company said longer opening hours, its focus on fresh produce and initiatives such as its price crunch campaign helped draw in a record average of 11.5 million shoppers to its stores each week.

The company recently opened its first convenience store as part of new chief executive Dalton Philips’ strategy to grow the business. He has also pledged to launch an online shopping operation after earmarking £3bn in investment to catch up with web-savvy rivals

Phillips said: “In addition to growing sales and delivering good profit growth, we also made great strides in developing the business for the future.  We have opened our first convenience store, invested further in our unique production capabilities, increased efficiency across the group, gained valuable insights from our trial stores and taken our first steps towards becoming a multichannel retailer. I am confident we will make further good progress in the second half.

“As we entered 2011, we expected that the consumer would remain under pressure throughout the year, and planned our business accordingly. During the first half, the trading environment has, as expected, been challenging and we anticipate it to continue to be so for some time to come. Despite this, our performance to date, our growing customer base and our ongoing focus on tight cost control throughout the business give the board confidence that we will deliver our expectations for the year.”

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