SUPERMARKET group Sainsbury's has announced that the boss of Marks and Spencer's food department will succeed chief executive Sir Peter Davis.

Justin King's immediate challenge will be to revive the company's sales after results showed minimal growth in the UK for the six months to October 11.

Sainsbury's blamed the lacklustre performance on the impact of its restructuring programme, although underlying profits rose seven per cent to £366m following a range of cost-cutting measures.

The appointment of Mr King, who has been managing director of Asda's hypermarkets operation, will allow Sir Peter to become Sainsbury's chairman - a position he is only expected to hold until July 2005.

Mr King, 42, is expected to earn £675,000 a year in his new role, which he will take up at the end of March.

Group sales for the half-year improved one per cent to £9.84bn, although the like-for-like figure for the UK remained static at 0.1 per cent.

The performance - in a period of strong growth for rivals Tesco and Asda - comes after the company modernised its supply chain and refurbished stores.

Sir Peter said: "We are confident that customers are beginning to see an improved Sainsbury's.

"By summer 2004 the significant achievements we have accomplished during the business transformation programme will provide the platform for refocusing on accelerating sales growth."

Sainsbury's has five supermarkets in the North-East and ten SAVE stores, employing 1,500 people, in the region.