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It was a Merry Christmas for M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, latest trading statements show

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Strong sales in the run up to Christmas have boosted results for three UK retailers, with M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco reporting stronger than expected growth.

Grocery sales helped all three retailers deliver positive trading statements for December, however it was more of a mixed bag for clothing and general merchandise volumes.

High street staple M&S saw UK sales of £3.6bn in the 13 weeks to 30 December 2023, led by the strong performance of womenswear and a 10.5% jump in food sales.

M&S was the top performing grocer in volume growth terms over the Christmas period and the quarter, with growth of c.7%, serving more customers in the period. It credited supply chain improvements in driving better availability year-on-year.

Clothing & Home sales increased 4.8%, with LFL sales also up 4.8% driven by growth in average selling price, partly a result of reduced promotions year-on-year. Market share increased, led by the strong performance of womenswear. M&S said this was supported by improved customer perceptions of style, quality and value.

Store sales increased 2.0%, with new full line stores performing ahead of plan. Online sales grew 10.9%, with improved carrier service levels compared with last year and strong demand for click and collect.

Stuart Machin, chief executive, said: “Our strategy to reshape M&S for growth has enabled sustained sales momentum across Food and Clothing & Home over the Christmas period. Thank you to our customers for shopping with us and to our colleagues who worked incredibly hard.

“We enter 2024 with a spring in our step, but clear eyed on the near-term challenges. We are determined to deliver our objective of driving 1% growth in market share in both businesses and to up the pace of our transformation: keeping a relentless focus on trusted value; accelerating our store rotation and renewal plans; doubling down on our supply chain programmes to improve availability and lower costs; and resetting our data, digital and technology strategy to unlock benefits in future years.”

For supermarket Sainsbury’s, it was grocery that once again drove its bumper Christmas period. Total retail sales, excluding fuel, for the 16 weeks to 06 January 2024 were up 6.5%, while food sales jumped 9.3%.

However, general merchandise sales were down 3.7% over the six week period, or 0.6% over quarter. Sainsbury’s stressed this was due to the closure of Argos in the Republic of Ireland.

Furthermore, third quarter clothing sales dropped 1.7%. The supermarket blamed unseasonably warm weather, particularly over Christmas. Partywear and family Christmas pyjamas were popular with customers.

Simon Roberts, chief executive, commented: “We’ve worked hard to really deliver for our customers this quarter and have grown grocery volumes ahead of the market for the fourth Christmas in a row. More customers are choosing to shop at Sainsbury’s, recognising our determined focus on value, product innovation and service.

“This was our first Christmas powered by Nectar Prices, helping customers save an average of £16 on an £80 Christmas shop. We delivered our best ever value Christmas roast and customers bought record numbers of pigs in blankets, mince pies and sparkling wine. Taste the Difference sales grew ahead of the market as families treated themselves.

“We enter 2024 with strong momentum and next month we will share our updated strategy, building on all we’ve done to put food back at the heart of Sainsbury’s over the last three years. There is a lot to be excited about and we remain absolutely committed to deliver for our customers, colleagues and shareholders.”

Six-week Christmas like-for-like sales at Tesco increased by 6.8%, including growth of 9.2% in the final four weeks.

The supermarket championed its fresh food availability for it latest results. While its Finest range sales up were 16.7%, including a record Christmas sales week. Tesco said this showed a continued switching from premium retailers, for 17 consecutive periods.

Additionally, online sales up 11.5%, supported by “strong execution”, with orders, volumes, pick rates and availability all up YoY. It also delivered nearly half a million Whoosh orders in lead up to Christmas.

Following these results, Tesco has increased its profit guidance to £2.75bn, from its previous range of £2.6bn to £2.7bn.

Ken Murphy, chief executive, noted: “The Tesco team has worked harder than ever to help customers celebrate this Christmas, with our strongest ever range of great value, fantastic quality food. I want to say a huge thank you to all of our colleagues for their relentless dedication and energy. We stepped up our investment in service over the key festive period, with more colleagues on the shop floor, helping to deliver market-leading availability and making this our best Christmas yet.

“As part of our focus on value, we offered a full Christmas dinner for just £2.09 per person, helping to drive record sales in the weeks leading up to Christmas and further market share gains. We put a strong focus on quality and innovation too, with over 550 new and improved festive products. Over 18 million customers took the opportunity to treat themselves by shopping from our Finest range, which saw sales growth of nearly 17%.

“Over the period we cut nearly 2,700 prices, with a further 150 prices cut just this week, cementing our position as the UK’s cheapest full-line grocer. Our powerful combination of great value, quality, availability and service means that we head into the New Year in great shape to keep delivering for customers.”

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