Marks & Spencer’s food division has not suffered from the ‘Aldi effect’ and the timing of Easter is behind flat headline like-for-likes in the fourth quarter, chief executive Marc Bolland maintained.

Like-for-likes at Marks & Spencer’s food arm inched up 0.1% in the period to March 29, when total sales rose 2.5%.

But Bolland said, that adjusted for Easter, food sales advanced 1.8% like-for-like and by 4.2% in total. “That would be better than Christmas,” he observed.

There had been speculation ahead of the update that M&S’s food business might suffer amid a turbulent grocery market which is being reshaped by the rise of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

But Bolland dismissed that idea. M&S research shows shoppers still want to treat themselves on food “and that is exactly what we’re delivering,” Bolland said. The timing of Easter was “totally” responsible for the flat reported like-for-like figure.

He said that M&S had delivered great successes over the period, when it sold a record number of Dine In deals for Valentine’s Day. The retailer also had a record Mother’s Day for sales of chocolates and flowers.

“We are all set up for the Easter season – a third of the range is new this year,” Bolland said.