The Co-operative Group's food retail business is enjoying its first period of like-for-like growth after almost two years of negative same store sales.

In an exclusive interview, Guy McCracken, who heads the food business, said: "In the past five or six weeks we have been matching or nudging ahead of the IGD figures. That's significant and encouraging. We have not cracked everything. But it shows we are doing the right things."

Since taking over as its chief executive last May, ­McCracken has been refocusing the business on a new strategy that is designed to make it the UK's preferred community food retailer by improving stores, products, service and execution.

He added: "I have been brought in to bring about an improvement. We want sales-led recovery, which is clearly the best rhythm for the business."

That strategy has led to the relaunch of its store refit programme and the earmarking of significant sums of cash for new equipment such as chillers.

McCracken also said the society would be interested in new acquisitions: "There's a few small parcels under review right now."

But he laughed off suggestions the society was keen to restart takeover talks with Nisa-Today's.