Somerfield has emerged as a surprise Christmas winner, posting like-for-like sales growth of 3.7% in the three weeks to 3 January.

The figure, which is well ahead of Tesco's 2.5% growth, comes despite a smaller marketing budget than its rivals and the distraction of being bought by The Co-operative Group.

"Christmas was a fairly exceptional period, when all the work over the last three years to make Somerfield a profitable retailer came together," Somerfield's retail director John Cleland told The Grocer. "Availability across all ranges was 98% and we reduced wastage costs dramatically. And this was not just a one-off. Our January performance has even better like-for-like sales than Christmas."

Despite The Co-op Group's ongoing acquisition of Somerfield, staff satisfaction was at its higher ever, Cleland claimed. A survey conducted in November found staff satisfaction was at 81% in stores and 72% in its Bristol HQ. "This is a 40% improvement on where we were when the business was bought by private equity three years ago," he said, adding that although staff may feel in a state of limbo because of the company's acquisition by The Co-op Group, they were 100% clear of their roles.

Meanwhile, the Co-op Group has started offloading stores beyond the 133 sites the Office of Fair Trading ordered it to sell.

Waitrose, Tesco, Musgrave Retail Partners GB and Spar bought 34 stores between them last week, although 16 of them were not on the OFT's list.

They were sold for strategic or commercial reasons, said The Co-op Group.