Marks & Spencer boss Steve Rowe has downplayed the significance of the like-for-like dip in its grocery sales during the first quarter of the year.

Total grocery sales grew 4.5% to £1.4bn but like-for-likes dipped by 0.1% in the 13 weeks to July 1, 2017.

It comes off the back of a 0.9% like-for-likes drop in the same quarter last year.

Rowe admitted that there was “some element of cannibalisation” at play due to the business’ store opening programme.

He added: “That is offset a little bit by the fact that we have some stores on their second year of growth, and we get better growth in those stores, but we have got some movement in the estate.”

However he bristled at the suggestion that M&S’ grocery competitors were outperforming its upmarket offer, saying that many of the grocers were “playing the recovery game” and insisting that M&S was still on track with its food growth strategy.

Much of the grocery market is currently focused on a return to form, with Tesco and Asda attempting to mount recoveries with differing degrees of success.

Under Dave Lewis, Tesco’s full-year like-for-likes rose for the first time since 2009/10, in its last financial year.

Asda has found engineering a comeback more challenging, suffering its tenth consecutive quarter of falling sales in February.

Amazon’s Whole Foods swoop

Rowe maintained that Amazon’s swoop to acquire Whole Foods last month would not affect M&S’ online grocery strategy.

M&S will run a “small trial” over the summer to determine customer need for an online food offer.

Rowe has not disclosed any details of the trial but Retail Week understands that it could be closer to a Deliveroo-style offer than anything designed to compete with the big four.

“In the nicest possible way, Whole Foods have 10 stores,” he commented. “We are concentrating on what we’re doing and we haven’t lost a penny by not being online so far, let’s be very clear on that.”

M&S’ grocery business continues to boost its challenged clothing and home division.

Clothing and home sales fell 1.2% on a like-for-like basis in the 13 weeks to July 1 and inched down 0.5% on a total basis to £852.1m.

One bright spot was the climb in full-price clothing and home sales as M&S pressed ahead with its strategy to reduce the number of items sold on promotion. This jumped 7%, following an 11% rise in the retailer’s last full-year.