Jamie Oliver has apologised to Sainsbury's after reportedly criticising the chain for failing to take part in a television debate on the welfare of chickens.

In a letter to staff, the television chef, who has a £1.2m a year deal with the supermarket chain to front its television advertising, said his comments had been taken out of context.

“I am happy to confirm what I have said on several occasions - that Sainsbury's have the most to be proud of on this important animal welfare issue,” Oliver said in the letter.

“I would not have continued working with Sainsbury's for so many years if I did not believe you were showing real leadership.”

The television debate was part his programme, Jamie's Fowl Dinners, which is set to air on Channel 4 tonight.

Meanwhile, shares in Sainsbury's rose 23p to close on 388p yesterday after the chain reported a 3.7% increase in like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, for the 12 weeks to 29 December.