Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland has praised the retailer’s food division for having an “outstanding year in a difficult market”.

The high street giant saw underlying profit before tax up 6.1% to £661.2m in its full year results ending 28 March 2015.

It opened 62 new Simply Food stores, and said its food performance was “ahead of expectations”.

Looking forward, the company said it predicted strong sales growth for the food business, and said it believed it was its differentiated product offer and store format which meant it could continue to outperform the UK food market.

It also said it saw sales growth as it delivered new Simply Food stores, bringing the total from 200 to 250 in the next three years to March 2017.

Marc Bolland, chief executive, said: “We made good progress in three of our four key priorities for the year. In food, we had an outstanding year in a difficult market.

“We are transforming M&S into a stronger, more agile business – putting the right infrastructure, capabilities and talent in place to drive our strategic priorities.”

Robert Swannell, chairman, said: “We are a more capable business following a sustained period of investment in our infrastructure and in our people. Our focus continues to be on delivery of the strategy and improvement in shareholder returns.”