Marks & Spencer (M&S) this morning reported a 1.7% rise in like-for-like sales for the 13 weeks to 2 July, as food sales offset a flat performance across its non-food operations. The company, a bellwether for the UK’s retail sector, saw like-for-like food sales increase 3.3% during the period. Sales across its general merchandise division, which includes clothing and home ware, were flat, although this was an improvement on the 3.9% decline experienced during the group’s fourth quarter. Total general merchandise sales excluding VAT were up 0.5% and total food sales grew 5.0%. Group sales climbed 3.2% M&S grew its market share of food sales by 10 basis points to 3.8%. The company highlighted the launch of more than 500 new products during the quarter, including a broader choice of healthy eating options for the summer. It said it was well placed to benefit from customers seeking better value alternatives to eating out, with its original 'Dine In' promotions “allowing them to enjoy Marks & Spencer quality at home”. However, the group said it expected trading conditions to remain challenging due to “pressure on consumers' disposable incomes and higher commodity prices”. It said: “As a result we remain cautious about the outlook. Our focus will be on remaining competitive, and offering our customers great value and quality at a time when they are managing their budgets carefully.”