BENTONVILLE, Arkansas: Many of the new customers shopping at Wal-Mart are in a higher income bracket than was previously the case, while the company has also seen a recent increase in sales for "discretionary items," according to its vice chairman, Eduardo Castro-Wright.

Wal-Mart has been one of the few beneficiaries of the current economic downturn, one of the major features of which has been the rising sales levels enjoyed by a large number of discount retailers.

According to Castro-Right, just over a quarter of Wal-Mart's improvement in sales in February was due to new customers, more than 50% of whom were argued to have an annual incomes of over $50,000 (£33,868; €37,809).

These shoppers also spent some 40% more on each visit to one of the company's stores than its typical customer.

Similarly, the falling cost of petrol and reduced taxes for Americans on lower incomes meant some consumers in its traditional user base have also increased their outlay.

In particular, Castro-Right said people have started buying "some of the discretionary items they were not buying before," with many "shopping for other stuff at Wal-Mart that they might have shopped for elsewhere" in the past

As a result, the company's fastest-growing categories are now in areas "like sporting goods, bedding, towels" rather than groceries.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff