Sir Stuart Rose has predicted a tough Christmas for M&S following a quarter two trading statement that showed like-for-like food sales down 5.9% year-on-year. The executive chairman said it would be “a very, very difficult Christmas in terms of aggressive promotions”.

The chain would offer “better value and more promotions across the business, while at the same time tightly controlling our costs”, he said. “Beware cheap imitations,” he warned.

However on a more optimistic note he predicted people would shun nights out in favour of cosy evenings in with an M&S meal. “As long as we have the availability and show them we have the right things, we will fight our corner,” he added.

Food availability had been “an irritation, not a serious problem, but it is a problem”, he added. The trading statement for the 13 weeks to 27 September 2008 showed group sales up 0.4%, ­buoyed by strong international and online growth. But UK like-for-likes were down 6.1%.

“While these are not exactly glowing figures, they are not the over-the-cliff disaster that many investors had feared,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Keith Bowman.