Marks & Spencer's trading uplift could herald the start of an economic recovery, analysts have predicted.

The retailer this week reported a 1.8% increase in like-for-like food sales for the 13 weeks to 27 March. Food sales rose 2.6%, with group sales up 4.8%.

M&S chairman Sir Stuart Rose said better value, availability and product innovation had buoyed food sales, but analysts said the results suggested better times were ahead.

"Going into and during much of the recession, the M&S Food operation materially underperformed its major peers, most spectacularly Waitrose," said Shore Capital analyst Clive Black. "The improvement in performance from M&S Food may be an indication of the gradual normalisation of trade and so economic recovery."

Sir Stuart said food volumes during the period had grown by 4%, adding that it had received "the best feedback we've had" from Easter ads featuring Caroline Quentin.