The scale of the task facing new Woolworths chief executive Steve Johnson has emerged after the embattled high street retailer posted first-half losses of more than £90m.

Johnson said a "good dose of basic shop-keeping" was required, with Christmas the top priority, after Woolworths today announced that it had racked up losses of £90.8m for the six months to 2 August.

The result follows a drop in like-for-like sales of 3% at its retail arm.

Total sales for the group, which in August turned down a £50m approach from Iceland boss Malcolm Walker, were down by a similar percentage, falling to £1.1bn.

The news comes just days after Johnson took the helm at the struggling chain, having replaced ousted chief Trevor Bish-Jones on 1 September.

“I took this job because I am convinced that there is space on the high street for a successful home-based variety store offering great value and convenience,” Johnson said. “My first weeks in the job have only reinforced that view and shown me that Woolworths has a core of strong, profitable stores, a great retail brand and many very committed people who want to succeed.”

He added: “It is too early for me to have a fully developed strategy. That plan is in progress but still some way from completion and we will update investors as soon as possible. Right now, this business does not require lots of new strategic initiatives; it requires a good dose of basic shop-keeping and attention to the detail of retailing. Our first priority… is delivering a successful Christmas for our customers.”