Growth slowed at Sainsbury’s in the final quarter of the year to its most sluggish rate in five years, the supermarket giant has confirmed in its latest trading update.

Like-for-like sales excluding fuel rose by just 1.7% over the past three months – the lowest rate since 2005 and down from almost 4% for the previous quarter.

Non-food grew at three times the rate of its food business, the retailer said, hailing its children’s clothing range as a “rising star” of the business.

Buoyed by the rising cost of petrol, like-for-likes including fuel were up by 4.8%.

“We've delivered another good performance in line with our expectations on top of strong growth last year,” insisted chief executive Justin King (pictured).

“We are now serving over 19 million customers on average per week – up one million on last year,” King added, warning that the business faced another “challenging” year in 2010.

Sainsbury's will announce preliminary results for the full year on 13 May.

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