The Co-operative Group has reported a strong Christmas, with like-for-like sales up 5% including VAT and excluding fuel in the three weeks to January 2.

For the 12 weeks to January 2, like-for-likes were up by 4.8%. In the same period, total sales grew by 66%, boosted by the acquisition of Somerfield.

Peter Marks, group chief executive, said: “These results represent another strong trading performance from our food business in an increasingly competitive market and a difficult economic climate.  Against the backdrop of financial pressures on household budgets, rising fuel prices and extreme wintry conditions, our focus on great deals locally and the fact that our stores are located within communities, helped boost sales.”

Over Christmas, the Co-op unveiled £200m of price cuts, including its first-ever triple dividend. It said sales were up in both convenience and larger stores.

Marks added: “Our customers were determined to make the most of Christmas, despite the recession, but were savvy enough to seek out our best value prices on luxury items such as Champagne, with sales up by 83%, spearheaded by Veuve Monnier Brut Champagne. At the same time, they took advantage of half-price offers on key seasonal lines, such as British pork roasting joints with a sales increase of 72 per cent.”

He added that shoppers didn’t abandon their ethics, and this year for the first time all Co-operative fresh and frozen turkeys were higher welfare Elmwood standard or above, and sales saw a 21% uplift.  

The group’s online electrical business reported sales for the three weeks to January 2 up 18%.

Marks said: “Looking ahead, we expect the economic pressures to continue until towards the end of 2010 or the first half of 2011, so we will be redoubling our efforts to help customers by providing even greater value.”