Woolworths has reduced first half losses by 21% and said that “better systems, better buying and cost control” underpinned the improved result.

For the 26 weeks to August 31, pre-tax losses narrowed to £36.4m from £46.2m while turnover rose 1.7% to £1.07bn.

Woolies said that confectionery “remains most challenging”. It added that a new buying team had been recruited and that “product and promotional innovation” was already returning to its offer.

Interim like-for-like sales at Woolworths Mainchain were up 0.9% and by 1.8% at Big W.

Group like-for-like sales were up 2.5% for the second quarter compared to a decline of 0.4% in the first quarter.