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Marks and Spencer’s food business has driven an increase in quarterly sales at the UK retailer.

In the 13 weeks to the end of December, the company increased group sales by 2.4%. Total UK sales were up 1.8% and a 0.8% drop in general merchandise sales was offset by a 4.5% jump in food sales.

Like-for-like UK sales rose 0.5%, food once again outperforming merchandise and rising 3%. Direct and international sales also jumped 22.4% and 8.1% respectively.

Marc Bolland, chief executive, said the results were down to customers choosing to protect their spending on festive food and the company introducing 600 new lines.

“Marks and Spencer performed well in a challenging trading environment,” he said.

“Our food business performed very strongly as customers enjoyed our new and traditional Christmas products. This unique offer, coupled with our great deals, gave them more choice than ever before for a special Christmas at home.”

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By GlobalData

The retailer says macro-economic conditions remain “challenging” and that it will focus on offering customers “great value and quality at a time when they are managing their budgets carefully”, as well as “tight” cost management. It said its expectations for annual profits remain “unchanged”.

M&S will provide a trading update on its fourth quarter on 17 April.

Shares in M&S were up 3.14% at 318.2p at 10:17 GMT.