INGLES WILL CONTINUE PROMOTIONS

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Ingles Markets here said last week it attributes a 2.8% increase in comparable-store sales in the third quarter ended June 28 largely to successful promotions, including triple coupons, and added that it intends to continue promoting heavily.During a conference call with industry analysts to discuss results for the quarter, Brenda Tudor, Ingles' chief financial officer, said, "In

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Ingles Markets here said last week it attributes a 2.8% increase in comparable-store sales in the third quarter ended June 28 largely to successful promotions, including triple coupons, and added that it intends to continue promoting heavily.

During a conference call with industry analysts to discuss results for the quarter, Brenda Tudor, Ingles' chief financial officer, said, "In order to drive sales, we ran more aggressive promotions and were pleased with the results."

Along with promotional pricing, Tudor explained that Ingles also made the stores more user-friendly. "As part of our strategy to drive sales, we increased labor hours at our stores to enhance customer service," she said. "Customer service is one of the best ways to drive sales and differentiate yourself."

She noted that the increased hours came at a price. A 3.3% increase in operating expense during the quarter was largely the result of increased labor costs, she said.

Still, the company appears committed to these aggressive efforts. Later in the call, Robert Ingle, Ingles' chairman and chief executive, commented, "We want to continue to promote heavily."

He said, "We're in a highly competitive situation. It's relentless, and it never ends." The company faced six competitive openings last quarter, said Ingle, four supercenters operated by Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., and two stores operated by Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.

In the quarter, sales rose 4.3% to $503.6 million, and net income was flat at $3.6 million, or 16 cents per share. Year-to-date, sales increased 0.7% to $1.49 billion, and comps were up 0.4%, but net income declined 7.3% to $10.2 million, or 44 cents per share, vs. 48 cents per share in last year's first three quarters.