The Co-operative Group has reported a strong Christmas performance in its food stores with like for like sales, excluding petrol, for the three weeks to 3 January up 6 per cent.

Like for like sales growth for the fourth quarter is up 5.2 per cent, and for the last 52 weeks, up 4.9 per cent.

Over the Christmas period, the Co-operative Group said sales growth was strongest in beers, wines and spirits, soft drinks, seasonal lines and fresh food.

The Co-operative Group chief executive Peter Marks said: "These results represent a good trading performance from our food business in an increasingly competitive market place and a difficult economic climate. We continue to make very good progress in all our target areas with great products, local convenience, good value and responsible retailing at the heart of our customer offer.”

Marks said throughout the seasonal trading period, the retailer sharpened prices and strengthened its customer offer, backed by its best-ever TV advertising and local marketing campaign. It also continued to add new products and maintain its ethical trading position.

During 2008, the retailer rebranded and refurbished 700 stores at a cost of£200 million, delivering average year on year sales uplifts of 13 per cent.

Marks said: “The unprecedented level of investment in store rebranding and refurbishment is paying back ahead of target as customers like the new look and feel of our modernised stores. In 2009, a further 700 stores will be rebranded and refitted.

“This robust performance is particularly pleasing coming ahead of our exciting acquisition of Somerfield, which we will complete in the first quarter of this year. We look forward to 2009 from a position of increasing strength."

The group’s online electrical business, The Co-operative E-store, reported like for like sales for the two weeks before Christmas up 20 per cent, while Christmas week sales were up 32 per cent. Top sellers were TVs, food processors and coffee makers.