Morrisons has reported strong Christmas trading with like-for-like sales up 6.5% on the six weeks to January 3.

The grocers reported total sales excluding petrol up 11.2%, or 10.8% including petrol. Like-for-likes including petrol were up 6.8%.

Morrisons – which is still searching for a chief executive to replace Marc Bolland who will join Marks & Spencer this year – said it served a record number of customers over Christmas.

The grocer said commodity prices have continued to decline, leading to an elimination of retail price inflation for the consumer. It said in this environment, its fresh and value credentials have proved attractive to customers.

The Christmas performance is slightly ahead of rivals Tesco and Sainsbury’s, with like-for-likes at 4.9% and 3.7% respectively.

Chairman Sir Ian Gibson said: “Morrisons has had another strong Christmas. Once again our distinctive offer, eye-catching promotions and relentless focus on our core strengths of fresh food and great value combined to help customers have a great Christmas.

“This has enabled Morrisons to finish the year strongly and although we remain cautious on the economic environment and consumer spending, we look forward to further progress in the coming year.”

Looking ahead, the grocer said it remains cautious for the outlook for consumer spending and expects the market to remain challenging.

Speculation has been rife this week that Morrisons financial director Richard Pennycook will be appointed as chief executive. He is a leading contender among external candidates including Sainsbury’s Mike Coupe and Waitrose’s Mark Price.

Morrisons has also appointed Johanna Waterous as a non executive director, taking up her position on February 1. She is currently a non executive director of RSA Group and Sandpiper. She also previously worked at McKinsey & Co.