The Co-operative Food enjoyed a strong Christmas buoyed by shoppers rushing to its convenience stores to top-up shop over the festive season.

The mutual reported like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to January 4 rose 1% fuelled by strong convenience store sales, which rose 3.2%. The Co-operative Group’s chief executive for retail Steve Murrells told Retail Week Christmas Eve was its busiest day as shoppers swarmed for last minute purchases.

Total food sales in the quarter were broadly flat at £1.7bn following the disposal of a number of its larger stores.

Like-for-like sales across the food arm in the three weeks to January 4 rose 3.5%, which included a 5.4% rise in convenience store sales.

Sales rose 28.2% in the Co-op’s online electrical business in the quarter while pharmacy sales rose 1%.

Murrells said: “These results are a reflection of all our efforts to improve the customer offer and show the value of our strategic focus on convenience retailing.

“We have introduced better products at better prices in better shops with better staff. We have successfully got people back into our shops. 2013 was a planning year and we have now started a journey to recovery.”

He said convenience had been key and that convenience store like-for-likes rose 6.8% in the weeks to Christmas.

Murrells said morale inside The Co-op was high despite the furore over allegations surrounding former bank chairman Paul Flowers late last year and that his True North strategy to improve products, service and stores has given the retailer strong direction.

He said The Co-op’s long-awaited online grocery launch remains confined to a single click-and-collect trial for staff and members at its Marple store in Stockport and the grocer is working on developing its IT platform further before trialling small and large basket delivery to homes.

Murrells added that he expects the growth of discounters including Aldi, Lidl and B&M Bargains to continue unabated in 2014. “They are doing the simple things really well and are in tune with customer needs. The discounters are going to continue to do well in 2014, the retail landscape has changed and is not going to go back.”