WOOLWORTH AUSTRALIA SALES RISE

SYDNEY, Australia (FNS) -- Woolworths here reported that its supermarket sales rose by 9% to $6.973 billion Australian ($5.334 billion U.S.) in the half year ended Jan. 5, 1997.result for this group was regarded as satisfactory."The company's total operating profit rose 9% to $148 million Australian ($113 million U.S.) on group sales of $8.217 billion ($6.286 billion U.S.). Iliffe said the general

SYDNEY, Australia (FNS) -- Woolworths here reported that its supermarket sales rose by 9% to $6.973 billion Australian ($5.334 billion U.S.) in the half year ended Jan. 5, 1997.

result for this group was regarded as satisfactory."

The company's total operating profit rose 9% to $148 million Australian ($113 million U.S.) on group sales of $8.217 billion ($6.286 billion U.S.). Iliffe said the general merchandise group (Big W and the Variety stores) recorded a sales increase of 10% to $1.025 billion ($784 million U.S.), with a 44% rise in profit to $52 million ($40 million U.S.).

The specialty retail group lifted sales by 5% to $219 million ($168 million U.S.) but profit fell 5% to $14 million ($11 million U.S.). Iliffe said the company intended to develop the recently acquired Australian Independent Wholesalers, with the aim of supplying independent retailers.

He said this decision was justified following "enquiries and research [which] have revealed an opportunity does exist for another significant wholesaler in Australia." Initial development will take place in Queensland and New South Wales.

Group Managing Director Reg Clairs said the company plans to at least double the size of Australian Independent Wholesalers. It would operate independently of Woolworths' supermarket division and have its own warehousing and distribution system. Leading independent chain, Davids, however, has made it clear it does not agree with Woolworths. John Patten, Davids' joint managing director, has said there is no room in Australia for another wholesaler, and warned against the price war that could be spawned. Company sources said Davids will ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to look into Woolworths' plans.