UK food sales at Marks & Spencer slowed sharply in the second quarter compared to the previous three-month period, as profits tumbled at the high street bellwether.

M&S hailed a “strong performance” from its food business in the six months to 1 October – despite like-for-like growth slipping from 3.3% in the first three months of the year to just 1% in the subsequent term. The retailer said it had launched 900 new food lines over the period.

Meanwhile, M&S confirmed analysts’ fears as profits slumped from £348.6m for the equivalent period last year to £315.2m.

Total sales across the group edged up by 2.4% for the half-year, with much of the growth driven by the international business.

“M&S performed well in the first half,” said chief executive Marc Bolland. “Sales were ahead of last year despite tough comparatives and a challenging economic environment. Our food business, in particular, performed strongly.

“In an increasingly promotional environment, we managed costs tightly and decided to invest in giving our customers better value, choosing not to pass on the full extent of the increases in commodity prices.”

He added: “We have a very exciting Christmas product offer for our customers with more innovation and choice than ever before.”

Read more
Putting the sparks back into Marks (analysis; 8 October 2011)
M&S adds to online offer with ‘food hall favourites’ (6 October 2011)
M&S in cash call on suppliers (4 October 2011)