Marks and Spencer said group like-for-like sales have risen 8.8% over the first half of the year and that strong food sales were boosted by the opening of three new Simply Food stores.

For the six months to September pre-tax profit rose to £285.3m from £213.3m last year on turnover that increased 7.9% to £3.7bn.

Food like-for-likes increased by 6% in the second quarter, and were up 3.6% over the first half.
Interim clothing and home like-for-like sales rose 13%.

Chief executive Roger Holmes said food sales were driven by product innovation and quality and that M&S was on track to open 20 Simply Food stores this year.

A further 63 stores were refurbished, bringing 80% of UK sales space in new M&S format, “creating a brighter and more modern environment for our customers”.

M&S has also "taken the first steps to reinvigorate its chargecard business with the recent launch of a pilot in South Wales for a “combined credit and loyalty card”.

Chairman Luc Vandevelde said: “Looking forward, we are now focused on gaining market share in the core areas, particularly clothing and food, and on building the foundations for future growth.

He cautioned that M&S needed to achieve this “in a market we expect to become less buoyant ... and against challenging year-on-year comparisons”.

The company confirmed that childrenswear sales are still disappointing in what was otherwise a very strong first half performance.