Iceland and Morrisons reported strongly contrasting sales figures as they kicked off the round of Christmas period trading statements by the major multiples. A defiant Bill Grimsey insisted Iceland's results were "very good", although he conceded that the 4.2% fall in like-for-like sales in Iceland stores for the five weeks to January 4 was "a concern". Grimsey said: "Five lines accounted for the shortfall ­ beers, soft drinks, frozen prawns, pizza and chicken nuggets. Last year they were given away at cost or below cost." He said the strategy of the new management team was to move away from such deep discounts, and as a result these lines were well down on last year, with beer down 47%. Grimsey also accepted this year's results were up against easy comparisons from a year ago, when Iceland sales plummeted due to a disastrous frozen organic initiative. But he said the encouraging factors were that higher gross margin and increased average spend by customers, offset the effects of the like-for-like sales decline. In the rest of the Iceland Group, Booker achieved like-for-like sales of 0.5% and like- for-likes excluding tobacco and phone cards of 1.5%. The Woodward foodservice arm, the smallest part of the group, grew sales by 17.5%. Grimsey emphasised that at the end of its third quarter the group was on track to achieve profit expectations. Better cost controls had reduced net debt to £425m on December 28, compared with £496m on December 29 2000. Morrisons, which has returned the best Christmas like-for-like figures in the multiple sector several years running, turned in another recordbreaking performance. In the six weeks to January 6, like-for-like sales were up 7.2% excluding petrol, or 5.1% with petrol, where prices have fallen sharply since last year. Off licence was the only department that did not match up, rising only 2.7%. MD John Dowd said: "Some supermarkets have been giving away beer. We are very competitive but we won't give it away to preserve trade." {{NEWS }}