Anne Bruce
The food sector appears to have bucked the depressed sales suffered by non-food retailers in the run up to Christmas.
The major multiples were not revealing final figures ahead of their trading statements later in the month, but most indicated they had a successful Christmas.
This contrasted with CBI figures released this week for all retail sectors, which showed pre-Christmas sales were down for the first time in 10 years.
The monthly distributive sales survey showed that in the two weeks prior to Christmas, 34% of retailers reported year-on-year sales up against 37% saying they were down, giving a balance of ­3%. This was the first negative balance since January 1999 and the first negative balance for December since 1992.
Waitrose was the first of the food retailers to release any figures, reporting sales up 6% year-on-year for the three days before Christmas.
And Nigel Robertson, joint MD of Waitrose online partner Ocado, said: "We have had tremendous customer demand in the run-up to our first Christmas. We look forward to 2003 with confidence."
Tesco is holding its sales data back to appear in a trading statement, which analysts expect will be published on January 14.
It revealed before Christmas that it took over £10m a week on through December, and predicted sales would jump further in January as customers took advantage of a sale.
Sainsbury also cut prices on 500 lines across its estate on Boxing Day in its first ever January sale,and said electricals had been selling particularly well. It is collating figures to appear in a trading statement on January 13. A spokesman said: "The sale is not about clearing stock. We decided to have a sale to keep the Christmas momentum going."
Asda was not revealing any figures, but a spokesman said: "We've had a good Christmas."
Morrisons is expected to publish Christmas figures on January 10, as is the Big Food Group. Somerfield said it would issue an interim statement on January 22.

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