The Co-operative Group has posted a 1.2% fall in half-year like-for-like sales.

Food sales were down 2.2% overall in the 26 weeks to 30 June and operating profits for the division fell from £142m to £119m.

However, there were signs of improvement amid what outgoing chief executive Peter Marks described as the worst trading conditions in 40 years.

Like-for-like sales in the society’s core convenience chain were up 1.4% during the period and by more than 12% in trial stores where the society has tailored ranges to the local demographics.

During the period, it also increased trading hours by 15,000 a week.

In its banking business, revenue rose 3.9% to £1bn, but taking into account year-on-year impact of PPI provisions, fell by 1.1%. Underlying operating profits crashed by 67.9% to £36.9m.

Sales across The Co-op’s broad portfolio of businesses rose from £6.546bn to £6.559bn during the period, but underlying operating profits slumped from £264m to £174m.

“This has been an important first half for The Co-op Group, marking as it did the progress we made that led to agreement with Lloyds Banking Group on our planned acquisition of the Project Verde assets [comprising more than 600 high street branches],” said Marks.

“It is in times like these when our ownership model as a mutual really comes into its own. We have been able to continue to invest for the long term development of all our businesses and to protect our customers even though we, like all businesses, have felt the impact of the tough headwinds of the unrelenting consumer downturn.”

He added: “The environment is tough and we see no let-up in that. But we believe that the work we have done over the past five years to scale up in our core businesses means we are better placed than ever before to thrive when the economic upturn does come.”