Morrisons chief executive Marc Bolland has said that Marks & Spencer was an opportunity he couldn’t miss, but he remains dedicated to Morrisons until his last day.

Bolland, who will take up his new post as chief executive of Marks & Spencer in the new year, said: “I am committed to the business to the last minute I am here. I have really enjoyed my time at Morrisons, have had a terrific three years and I’m sure my successor will continue to take the business forward. Marks & Spencer was an opportunity that passed by that I couldn’t miss.”

Morrisons today reported like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to November 1 rose by 4.3%.

In the third quarter, total sales were up by 9.1%. The grocer said commodity prices continued to ease through the quarter, resulting in lower retail price inflation and market growth. It said the underlying sales performance in the period was consistent with the good growth it experienced in the second quarter.

Morrisons share price took a huge blow yesterday after it was revealed Bolland is to join M&S in the new year, wiping £384m off the group’s market value.

Morrisons chairman Sir Ian Gibson said today: “Marc has made an enormous contribution to I am grateful to him for his work and his leadership. We have a strong, stable and growing business, and a strong management team which will continue to deliver the strategy. The board is already working to identify a suitable successor.”

He said he hoped to have a the process wrapped up early in the new year but added: “We will wait for the right person rather than hurtle into it.”

Morrisons said it is now exploring both internal and external candidates to take over from him. Bolland is credited with turning around the grocer after the Safeway acquisition.

Morrisons said in the third quarter it welcomed a record 10.8 million customers on average through its doors each week, up by over 1.6 million since it launched its Food Specialist for Everyone strategy two years ago.

Speaking about the performance, Bolland said: “Morrisons continues to grow ahead of the market driven by our award winning combination of outstanding quality, fresh food and great value. I am pleased that more and more customers are attracted to Morrisons, as we continue our journey from national to nationwide.”

The grocer said its new regional distribution centre at Sittingbourne opened ahead of schedule to support additional volumes for its store opening programme.