Marks & Spencer has posted a fall in underlying pre-tax profit to £665.2m despite a 1.3% rise in group sales to £10bn as it looks to turn around its general merchandise arm.

The fall in profits from £687.2m last year represents Marks & Spencer’s lowest annual profit since 2009.

Total UK sales in the 52 weeks to March 30 rose 0.9% with food sales up 3.9% but general merchandise sales were down 2.4% as chief executive Marc Bolland battles to improve its womenswear performance. Total sales in its home department fell 2.2%.

UK like-for-like sales rose 1% in total with food like-for-likes up 1.7% but general merchandise was down 4.1%.

The retailer’s international sales rose 4.5% as M&S opened 45 new international stores in the year including in eight new territories. Multichannel sales were up 16.6% in the year.

M&S said trading over the first seven weeks since year end has been “in line with our expectations” and that it has made “significant progress” in the third year of its transformation plan.

Bolland said: “In a challenging market, M&S sales grew by 1.3%. Three of the four parts of the business made strong progress.

“We are working hard to get the general merchandise performance back on track. We have already made progress in our operational execution, and our new autumn/winter ranges have received a positive reaction.”

He added: “We are very pleased with food performance, which benefited from our continued focus on delivering innovation, and unrivalled quality and provenance. Our international operations performed well in key markets and our multichannel business delivered strong growth.”

The retailer has enacted a number of initiatives to improve its womenswear performance under the guidance of former Jaegar boss and M&S style director Belinda Earl and last week unveiled its new autumn/winter range.

M&S has appointed former Estée Lauder executive Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne as its new as executive director for marketing and business development, taking over from Steven Sharp, who has presided over the retailer’s marketing for almost a decade.

Bousquet-Chavanne joined M&S last September as corporate director of strategy implementation and business development and will take over from Sharp in July.

M&S said operating costs are expected to increase by about 3.5% in the year ahead as a result of inflation and volume growth, the addition of new space and an increase in depreciation. The retailer plans to open about 2% of new space in its UK estate and about 15% in its international space.

The retailer said its food performance has been driven by a 4% increase in availability and a repositioning to become more of a specialist in areas such as deli and bakery.  

The retailer said its new format stores are performing 3% ahead of the rest of the estate. It now has 55 in-store beauty shops “delivering strong double-digit sales uplifts” and 33 new home concept stores.