Marks & Spencer (M&S), the high street stalwart, today revealed its food like-for-like sales improved by 1.7% in the past year – because it was “more specialist” and focused on “quality and innovation”.

The company, announcing its full year results for the 52 weeks to 29 March, said total food sales had grown by 4.2%.

Group total sales, including clothes and other items, were by 2.7% at 10.3bn, but underlying profit before tax fell by 3.9% to £623m.

Marc Bolland, chief executive, said: “M&S grew sales by 2.7% last year. We are focused on improving our performance in general merchandise and were pleased to see early signs of improvement. Our food business had a very strong year, consistently outperforming the market.

"Three years ago, we recognised the scale of investment required to transform our business, investing to strengthen our foundations and improve our customer offer. We are making solid progress on this journey and are now focused on delivery."

M&S added that it continues to innovate, with 20% of its products being new launches in the past year.

And it added: “We continued to enhance the shopping experience for our customers, introducing new ways of displaying products and improving choice by bringing the full range to c.110 stores. We improved on-shelf availability by seven percentage points over the last three years. As a result, we are seeing more customers shop with us more often.

“We have worked hard to deliver efficiencies from our supply chain, which have allowed us to continue to invest in product quality and innovation to stay ahead of the market, keep our prices competitive as well as improve our margins without compromising product quality.”