MARKS & Spencer's food division had a "standout" performance over Christmas but clothes and home sales fell.

UK food revenue for the business grew 1.5 per cent to £1.7billion in the three months to the end of December, the company said.

However, sales in the clothing and home division dropped 2.7 per cent to £1.1bn in the third quarter.

On a like-for-like basis, which strips out the effect of new stores and closures, UK revenue grew 0.2 per cent.

M&S is a key tenant at Bournemouth's Castlepoint and at Poole's Dolphin Shopping Centre, and has food stores in towns including Broadstone, Westbourne, Ferndown, Christchurch and Blandford.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: "The food business continued to outperform the market, and clothing and home had a strong start to the quarter, albeit this was followed by a challenging trading environment in the lead-up to Christmas."

He added that "disappointing one-off issues" such as waste in the food business and the performance of its gifts range "held us back from delivering a stronger result".

On a call with reporters, Mr Rowe said that, although customers purchased a lot of M&S food, "we bought more than we sold", but he promised that no food waste went to landfill.

It was reported that M&S had ordered too many slim-fitting trousers and jeans for men in a bid to make them more fashionable. Mr Rowe told reporters the retailer had “got the balance wrong”.

The business stuck to its profit guidance, but warned that gross margins are likely to be at the lower end of expectations.

Meanwhile, online clothes sales failed to bring much Christmas cheer for M&S management. Online clothing and home revenue in the UK was up 1.5 per cent - lower than expected.

The business said it had to deal with competitors offering discounts to customers, and less furniture being dispatched.

In a bid to remedy the problems, M&S improved its search and rationalisation functions and launched an option for customers to pay in instalments.

International sales fell 2.3 per cent to £251m.

Richard Lim, chief executive of consultancy Retail Economics, said: "Food performed particularly well, benefiting from stronger underlying household finances, but consumers also responded positively to more competitive pricing.

"It appeared that shoppers were prepared to indulge that little bit more this Christmas on food if they spotted value for money."

He added: "While clothing and home lagged overall growth, it still improved on previous performances. The major disappointment came in the online business that barely showed any meaningful signs of growth.

"Integrating a seamless digital proposition remains the key challenge for the retailer."