It was a bumper Christmas for The Co-operative Group - thanks to better availability and new products.

In an exclusive interview with The Grocer, Guy McCracken, chief executive officer of food retail for the society, said total like-for-like sales for the four weeks to 30 December were up by 5.2%, with like-for-likes in its c-stores up 8.5%.

From 17 December to 30 December, total like-for-like sales rose 6.1%, and by 9.3% in its c-stores.

In the eight days trading up to Christmas Eve, the group took £97m and 23 December was its biggest sales day to date, taking £17m. Previously, its biggest sales day had been 24 December 2005, when it took £15.8m.

"We had a really strong Christmas that reflected our work on building availability, introducing new products and refitting our stores," said McCracken. "We have driven these factors rather than just sticking to what worked last Christmas."

The society had expected Christmas trading to be strong but the figures were ahead of forecasts, he said. "We have had like-for-like performance growth as the year has gone on. In 2005 we had negative like-for-likes. But at the end of the first half of 2006, we reported like-for-like growth of 3.3%. We have seen continued growth beyond that and were trading well approaching Christmas."

This Christmas the group had its "best-ever ambient availability", which McCracken said was down to its 312,000 sq ft RDC in Coventry, which opened in August to serve 3,300 food stores. "The distribution centre has paid dividends and holds a huge volume of ambient goods," he said.

A quarter of the Co-op's Christmas range was made up of its premium food line Truly Irresistible.

"We were delighted with the range's performance," McCracken said.