Elaine Watson Marks and Spencer and Safeway defied forecasts of a downturn, but Iceland slipped badly in figures released this week. At Big Food Group sturdy first quarter performances by Booker and Woodward Foodservice offset a 5.8% slide in like-for-likes at Iceland, which the company blamed on harsh comparatives due to a big glassware promotion this time last year. "These are not great figures, but not as bad as Taylor Nelson Sofres data might have suggested," said one analyst. "The growth from Booker's non tobacco business [2.4%, Easter adjusted] is very encouraging and they've got net debt down faster than we expected. "We're happy with the long-term picture." Big Food Group remained upbeat about prospects based on encouraging like-for-like sales growth at reformatted Iceland stores and the long-term plan to develop Booker's delivered service. Safeway's trading statement was slightly more positive, said analysts. However, the acceleration of like-for-like sales growth in the second half of the quarter to 4% was more a reflection of the new space from megastore openings than a significant improvement in underlying performance. "I doubt they can sustain it," said one analyst. The strongest figures came in from Marks and Spencer, which posted a 7.7% rise in group like-for-like sales in the 14 weeks to July 6, with food steaming ahead at 4.3% (Easter adjusted). Although Marks and Spencer is not facing tough comparatives, "the figures are good by anyone's estimation," said Seymour Pierce's Rhys Williams. Chairman and chief executive Luc Vandevelde will revert to his original role as chairman in September, leaving Roger Holmes to take the helm as chief executive. The head of M&S's food business unit Justin King has been appointed to the board. {{NEWS }}