Tesco has felt the effects of customers tightening their belts as it reported slower like-for-like UK sales growth over Christmas.

In the six weeks to January 5, Tesco’s like-for-like sales, excluding petrol, climbed 3.1 per cent, compared with 4.1 per cent for the third quarter. Total UK sales rose 8 per cent.

The like-for-likes fell short of analyst Citi’s expectations, which forecast like-for-like sales growth of 4 to 4.5 per cent and shares in the retailer fell 3.5 per cent in early trading.

Tesco’s non-food sales performed well, with strong market share growth in most categories, including clothing, entertainment and books.

Sales at Tesco’s online businesses, tesco.com, and Tesco Direct, rose 24 per cent to more than£190 million. The grocer delivered more than 2 million orders in the six-week period. Tesco said that sales of MP3 players, digital cameras and laptops were particularly strong.

Tesco was buoyed by its international business, with sales in the period soaring 26.9 per cent. In central Europe, sales growth hit nearly 30 per cent and in some of its newest countries it far exceeded this – Turkey rose 80 per cent and Malaysia by more than 60 per cent.

In the US, Tesco said early customer response to Fresh & Easy has been encouraging. It now has 28 stores trading in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Group sales increased 12.8 per cent, a faster rate of growth than in the third quarter.