Sales at Marks & Spencer, the UK food and clothing retailer, increased by 2.4 per cent in the three months to 29 March 2003, helped by a 4.6 per cent increase in food sales.
The company said that the Q4 performance was all the more impressive given that the same quarter in 2002 had included the key Easter period, which this year falls in the following three month period.
"Food has outperformed the market over the quarter," the company said. "Our new product launches, together with a focus on key events such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, have been well received by customers."
For the year as a whole, the company reported a 7.8 per cent increase in sales, with food turnover up 5.1 per cent.
M&S also performed well outside the UK, with full year turnover in the overseas businesses, including franchises, increasing by approximately 1 per cent at constant exchange rates.
The retailer will announce its full year results in May, but said that group profit before tax and exceptional items was expected to be at the top end of market expectations. Major exceptional items which would impact the figures were related to a planned Head Office move (c.£10 million) and a logistics review (c.£35 million), the company said.
Roger Holmes, M&S chief executive, said that sales as a whole had been affected by weakening market conditions during the last quarter but that the performance for the year overall was satisfactory.
"In the current environment, we will manage our operating costs more tightly. At the same time we will continue investing in long term growth initiatives, such as rolling-out the successful Simply Food format."
For the current year, Holmes said there would be increased costs relating to the roll out of Simply Food (a joint venture between M&S and the Compass foodservice group providing food-only stores on railway stations), along with other initiatives such as a combined loyalty and credit card, but that full-year pre-tax profits would be increased by £30-40 million as a result of an extra week.