Healthy food ranges have helped Marks & Spencer gain a 0.8% increase in group sales in its fourth quarter 2011/12.

As announced this morning (17 April), the business has seen a 3.1% boost in UK food sales, with like-for-like food sales up 1% for the 13 weeks to 31 March 2012. Total UK sales rose by 1.2%, despite its like-for-like sales dropping by 0.7%.

Marc Bolland, chief executive for Marks & Spencer Group, said: “Marks & Spencer continued to make progress in a challenging market. Group sales grew by 0.8%, and UK sales grew by 1.2%. Our food business has again performed well, especially healthy food.

“In food, we performed well in a very competitive market and against tough comparatives. We continued our focus on innovation, launching c.500 new products in the quarter. Our promotions provided our customers with great value solutions for special times of the year, such as Valentine’s Day Dine In, which was our record one to date. We held the highest share of the market for healthy eating through the quarter, with our Simply Fuller Longer range as the market leader.”

General merchandise saw a decline in both total sales (-1.2%) and like-for-like (-2.8%), in addition to international sales falling 2%. Direct sales have grown considerably in Q4 with a 22.8% increase.

Bolland added: “We have continued to manage costs tightly, and are confident of delivering full-year profits in line with expectations. While the short-term trading outlook continues to be challenging, we are focused on investing in line with our plan and are making strong progress against our goal of becoming an international, multi-channel retailer.”

Marks & Spencer reported that its UK pilot stores on the high street have performed well, with plans to roll the concept out through the remainder of its estate by mid-2013. It plans to do so for £100m less than its previous guidance of £600m, with no reduction in scope.

The group will announce its full-year results, for the 52 weeks ending 31 March 2012, on 22 May .