Marks & Spencer’s strong fourth-quarter food performance was not a side-effect of the horse meat row that hit other retailers, chief executive Marc Bolland has maintained.

M&S posted a 4% like-for-like advance at its food business in the quarter to March 30 and reported that long-established relationships with farmers and suppliers and its reputation for quality meant that it was “unaffected by the recent issues affecting the food industry”.

Bolland emphasised the retailer had not exploited the horse meat scandal. “We didn’t want to take a media benefit,” he said. “We also didn’t do things just to attract customers because of that incident. What we’ve seen is that people gave us a bigger basket because of trust and provenance.”

Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said M&S could have benefitted from customers switching away from grocers involved in the affair however he said “management stated that any impact was not distortive to the overall food division performance in its view”.

The strong food performance helped M&S’s UK like-for-likes edge up 0.6% in the quarter. General merchandise like-for-likes, which include the key clothing category, fell 3.8%. The quarterly performance, the retailer’s best in two years, beat City expectations – a 4.5% decline in general merchandise had been feared.

Bolland said that operational improvements had been made in general merchandise over the period and would continue in the current quarter. Ranges developed by the new clothing team, including style director Belinda Earl, seen as crucial to the turnaround of the retailer’s apparel business, will not go into stores until the summer.

Bolland said: “It still has to improve, no question. But we’ve done a good job by editing [the range] right and managed well in the tough March market.”

M&S’s multichannel revenues rose 22.9% in the quarter, when mobile sales growth was 70% year-on-year.