Sainsbury’s has posted a 1.9% decline in like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, for the 10 weeks to 14 March – ahead of analyst expectations.

Total sales for the quarter were down 0.3%, excluding fuel.

Chief executive Mike Coupe said the retailer’s value simplicity programme announced last year was paying off, with volume growth across the food business and an average uplift of over 3% on the 1,100 products where price reductions had been made.

Warning that the trading environment remained “challenging” he added that Sainsbury’s price position versus its major competitors had “never been stronger”.

Coupe also said Sainsbury’s was making good progress on its programme to improve the quality of more than 3,000 products.

“We have recently rolled out improvements to our fresh salmon and Taste the Difference crisp ranges – and the rate at which we launch these innovations will increase in the new financial year,” he added.

Its general merchandise and clothing businesses grew more than 6% during the quarter, while its convenience business grew 14%, buoyed by the opening of 23 new c-stores. Groceries online saw order numbers increase 14%.

“We expect the market to remain challenging for the foreseeable future,” Coupe added.

“Food deflation is likely to persist for the rest of this calendar year, and competitive pressures on price will continue. However, we believe that the great value and quality of our products, combined with a strong focus on developing our multi-channel offer, will enable us to outperform our supermarket peers.”