The Co-operative Group has blamed difficulties integrating the Somerfield business for a 2.5% slump in like-for-like food sales over 2010.

Total sales in its food business rose 4.8% to £7.5bn, with operating profits in the division up 33% to £382.6m.

But chief executive Peter Marks admitted like-for-like sales had been hit by the “severe disruption” caused by integrating Somerfield into the business.

He said: “Given two winters in which our stores were hampered by severe weather conditions, a poor summer and an anti-climatic World Cup, which can normally be relied on to drive sales, the fact that our food business has ended the year with an operating profit that is over 30% up on last year's figure is commendable.”

Total sales for the society's family of businesses rose 9.1% to £13.7bn. with underlying profits up 31.4% to £624.8m, boosted by the acquisitions of Somerfield and Britannia Building Society.

Looking ahead, Marks warned: “We had hoped to see signs of economic recovery by the start of 2011, but the downturn is clearly biting deeper than we had expected.

“We now anticipate challenging trading conditions through to the end of this year and into 2012.”

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