Steven Esom, director of food at Marks & Spencer, has left the company as the retailer reports a 4.5% drop in like-for-like first-quarter food sales.

Esom had been head of food at M&S since joining in June last year from Waitrose where he was MD. In March he was appointed to M&S' board of directors.

"Our food business has delivered strong growth over the last three years, with the continued roll-out of our Simply Food format,” M&S chairman Sir Stuart Rose said in a trading update this morning. “We have re-established the business as a leading retailer of high quality, fresh, innovative foods.

“In this quarter, pressures on consumer spending and increased competitor pricing and promotional activity, coupled with changes in consumer buying patterns, have resulted in a significantly weaker performance.

“In order to meet these challenging market conditions, we need to increase the pace of change on a number of operating and trading initiatives. As a result, Steven Esom, director of food, is stepping down from the board and will be leaving the business with immediate effect.”

Esom will be replaced by John Dixon who is currently director of Home and M&S Direct at the retailer.

M&S reported a 1.3% increase in group sales for the 13 weeks to 28 June. UK sales fell 0.5% during the period and food sales rose 1.6%.

Since May, consumer confidence levels had deteriorated markedly and market conditions had become more challenging, Sir Stuart added.