Marks and Spencer (M&S) food business has reported like-for-like sales are up 1%. 

The retailer said its “specialist position” in the food market meant it continued to be set apart from other competition. Food H1 sales overall were up 3.6% for the 26 weeks ended 27 September 2014. 

It also said it expected its food business to continue to outperform the market with 50 more new Simply Food stores planned over the next three years, up to a total of 200 from 150 as previously indicated.

The company said: “We launched over 1,000 new lines in the first half of the year including our new ‘Taste’ range of prepared meals as well as new categories such as frozen meals. At the same time, we continue to highlight the great value we offer on everyday essentials in our ‘Simply M&S’ range of c.700 lines, all of which are competitively priced but with added M&S quality.”

It also said it will focus on developing “top-quality” ranges with competitive prices that were also fair to farmers.

It admitted that market conditions will continue to be challenging, but was confident it would be ready for the key Christmas trading period.

Marc Bolland, chief executive, outlined his plans to focus on the continued growth of M&S food. He said: “M&S delivered sales growth and increased profit in the first half despite a tough market, particularly in September. We are pleased with the progress we have made against our key priorities for the year: GM gross margin, improving womenswear, driving food growth and cash generation.”

Overall, the retailer showed strong cash generation, with EBITDA at £578.8m, up £37.7m.