Marks & Spencer has reported a return to profit in its half-year results and upgraded its full-year outlook as boss Steve Rowe heralded “the hard yards” of its ongoing transformation as the driving force behind its strong performance. 

The retailer reported a profit before tax of £187.3m in the 26 weeks ended 2 October 2021, up 17.9% on pre-pandemic levels and significantly ahead of the £87.6m loss reported in the same period last year.

Food sales rose by 10.4% compared to the equivalent period in 2019, and up 16.9% excluding hospitality and franchise. Food operating profit reached £143.7m during the period, up 55% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, clothing and home sales decreased by 1% in comparison with 2019, while full-price sales rose by 17.3%.

Marks & Spencer’s online sales jumped by 60.8% in the period and accounted for 34.4% of total sales in this division.

By contrast, clothing and home store sales fell 17.6% in the first half of the retailer’s financial year.

M&S plans to open 20 stores, including stores in six former Debenhams sites, while three stores have closed. 

Hailing the combined effects of its ongoing business transformation strategy, as well as the consumer “bounce back” from the pandemic,  M&S has upgraded its full-year profit outlook to be ahead of expectations, now expected to reach the region of £500m.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Given the history of M&S we’ve been clear that we won’t overclaim our progress. Unpacking the numbers isn’t a linear exercise and we’ve called out the Covid bounce-back tailwinds, as well as the headwinds from the pandemic, supply chain and Brexit, some of which will continue into next year.

“But, thanks to the hard work of our colleagues, it is clear that underlying performance is improving, with our main businesses making important gains in market share and customer perception. The hard yards of driving long-term change are beginning to be borne out in our performance.”