Tesco has said a “much stronger food performance than last year” has helped the company achieve its highest rate of growth for three years.

The supermarket retailer revealed the news today as part of its Christmas and New Year trading statement, highlighting its financial performance in the six weeks to 5 January.

It revealed a 4.3% growth in UK total sales, with VAT but excluding petrol, as well as like-for-like (LFL) sales rising by 1.8%, which is the highest level of growth Tesco UK has seen in the last 36 months. Group sales increased by 3.9%, excluding petrol.

Philip Clarke, chief executive of the Tesco Group, said: “The group performed broadly in line with our expectations through the Christmas period, with an improved performance in the UK and maintained trends elsewhere as we continue to experience tough trading conditions – particularly in central Europe.

“I am pleased with our performance over the important Christmas and New Year period in the UK, which reflects the progress we are making in improving our offer for customers. This performance was driven by a further improvement in our food business in-store and a strong contribution from online, which included our biggest-ever week for internet sales, a successful first Christmas for Grocery Click & Collect and a better performance for Tesco Direct, our online general merchandise business.”

He added that ranges such as Tesco Finest and the Everyday Value line of products, which replaced the Tesco Value range last April, outperformed the business as a whole, as customers responded well to a much stronger seasonal offering in both.

In addition to the strong UK performance, the firm has announced the appointment of Chris Bush as UK managing director. It comes after a nine-month period in which Clarke has led both the UK and group business.

Other highlights of the financial results included a 18% rise in online food sales during the period, with more than half a million food orders fulfilled in the week before Christmas, of which almost 5% were picked up by customers using Tesco’s drive-through Click & Collect service.

James Collins of Deutsche Bank, Equity Research, Europe, said Tesco’s UK LFL performance over Christmas was much stronger than it expected: “Key for the multiple, though, is the strong underlying momentum in the UK business, showing that the UK recovery is well on track at a margin in line with guidance and that, as previously guided, the UK business should be able to sustain its recovery at this margin level.”