Now, I'll turn the call over to, Craig.
Thank you, Lisa, and thank all of you for joining us today. We are pleased to share our second quarter and first half results with you and we look forward to today’s discussion.
Let me begin by saying, I am very pleased to announce another quarter of exceptional growth in both revenue and earnings for The Fresh Market. The company’s second quarter diluted earnings per share increased 26.4% to $0.28 over last year’s second quarter diluted earnings per share of $0.22 and our first half diluted earnings per share increased 35.5% to $0.68 over last year’s first half diluted earnings per share of $0.50.
Our comparable store sales increased 8% in the quarter and our total net sales grew 20.6% to $313 million. Additionally, during the quarter we opened five stores in Wichita, Kansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Bedford, New Hampshire; New Orleans, Louisiana and Rogers, Arkansas, adding the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and New Hampshire to our store base. Since the quarter ended, we have opened three additional stores in Bradenton, Florida; West Chester, Ohio and Pinecrest, Florida. We’ve now opened 11 stores this fiscal year and we remain on-track to open 14 to 16 stores in fiscal 2012.
Our gross margin rate increased approximately 140 basis points in the quarter primarily through merchandise margin expansion. Benefits obtained through re-negotiated supply chain and vendor agreement and reduced shrink as the percentage of sales primarily drove the merchandise margin growth. Balancing the strong performance we have achieved so far in fiscal 2012 with the risks and opportunities we see remaining in our next two quarters we’re pleased to increase our fiscal 2012 earnings guidance to $1.33 to $1.38 per share, an increase of 25% to 30% over fiscal 2011 earnings per share of $1.07.