Food sales in the early run up to Christmas would have been the worst ever - if they had not been bolstered by massive increases at Tesco.

The industry has grown at a steady rate of 3.2% in the four weeks to December 5, according to TNS data. However, if Tesco were excluded from the figures sales would have been the worst on record having dropped by 0.7%.

In the four weeks Tesco sales were up 14% on the same period last year, with a record high market share of 29.5%.

Tesco has also snapped up 60% of new space this year, and this will increase in 2005, a Citigroup analyst said. ”Tesco's strength has severely curtailed the opening programmes of its competition. It now looks like Tesco will account for up to 70% of new space opened in the UK sector next year. It has emerged as the Wal-Mart of Europe.”