Marks and Spencer has beaten analyst expectations to record a 19.6% increase in pre-tax profits to £308.2m in half-year results.

In results for the half-year to end October 1, the retailer also revealed that its food sales were up 5.6%, or up 1.6% on a like-for-like basis.

M&S said that the increase was down to its plans to broaden the reach of its food business. It added that during the period it had opened six Simply Food stores, launched 140 lines in its Cook range, made recipe changes to 450 lines and extended its Eat Well campaign.

The retailer also said that it was planning to form a new food development unit in order to “explore new opportunities to develop and broaden the reach of our food business”.

UK sales dipped 0.2% to £3,302.3m, while international sales rose 8.6% to £348.5m.

Stuart Rose, CEO of M&S said: “We are pleased with the progress we are making but much remains to be done.”

Paul Myners, chairman of M&S added: “We have the important Christmas trading period ahead which was very promotionally driven last year.”