Tesco's Christmas sales 'best for three years'

Customers outside a Tesco Extra
Image caption Tesco has appointed a new managing director for its UK business

Tesco has reported its strongest growth in UK Christmas sales for three years.

The country's biggest retailer reported that sales excluding new store openings, VAT and petrol grew 1.8% in the six weeks to 5 January, compared with the same period last year.

It said food sales had been particularly strong, with customers responding to "a much stronger seasonal offering".

Tesco also said its online food sales were up 18%.

The statement is in stark contrast to its report this time last year, when it described sales as disappointing, reported a 2.3% drop in sales and admitted that promotional activities had missed the mark.

Tesco is now nine months into the revamp of its UK stores, during which time Philip Clarke has been both group chief executive and in charge of running the UK business.

The supermarket group has now appointed a new UK managing director, Chris Bush.

Total sales across the group, excluding petrol, grew by 3.9%.

In its international businesses, sales in Asia were "slightly better", with strong performance in Thailand offsetting forced store closures in South Korea.

Sales in Europe were down 0.6% while total sales at the Fresh & Easy chain in the US - which Tesco is looking to either close or sell - were up 4.1%.

'More to do'

Tesco is the latest retailer to update the markets on its festive trading.

  • Morrisons reported a "disappointing" 2.5% fall in sales for the six weeks to 30 December
  • Sainsbury's announced a 0.9% rise in sales, although it covered a longer, 14 week period to 5 January
  • Marks & Spencer's like-for-like sales were down 1.8% in the 13 weeks to 29 December, although food sales rose 0.3%
  • Iceland's sales grew 5% in November and December

Richard Hunter from Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers said: "What a difference a year makes. Last January Tesco issued a profits warning which precipitated a 20% fall in the share price and questions being asked about the validity of the strategy.

"Today's statement follows a year of transformation... and is proof positive that Tesco is fighting to regain its previously unassailable position in the UK."

Tesco shares closed up 1.8%.

Philip Clarke stressed that Tesco's revamp programme was not yet finished.

"Whilst our seasonal performance is encouraging, there is a lot more to do and the team is focused on delivering further improvements for customers in 2013," he said.

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