High street retail chain Marks & Spencer (M&S) has recorded virtually static like-for-like (LFL) food sales figures, with just 0.2% growth in the 26 weeks ending 26 September.

This was despite total food sales rising 3.3%, ahead of the group sales increase of 1.4% and a general merchandise LFL sales decrease of 1.2%.

Profit before tax was also down 22.7% in the half year to September at £216m. According to the company, this was due to a £68m net charge, including £26.7m as part of a £90m multi-year store improvement programme. The retailer claimed an underlying profit before tax growth of 6.1% to £284m.

M&S said food sales had been helped by key innovations and a focus on convenience. During H1, the company released 900 new products, including new lines in its Taste range of Mediterranean-inspired ready meals. In the same period it also opened 32 Simply Food stores to capitalise on the convenience market, with the company saying these were performing “ahead of expectations”.

Marc Bolland, chief executive at M&S, said: “We delivered good underlying profit growth in the first half and made strong progress against our key priorities. Our food business again outperformed the market by over three percentage points as our focus on quality and innovation continues to set us apart.”

M&S identified food sales growth as one of its key areas going forwards and claimed the National Living Wage (NLW) would not affect it in the short term, due to the retailer already paying permanent customer assistants a minimum of £7.41 per hour, 21p higher than the NLW.