UK supermarket chain Sainbury's Plc today (8 January) posted better-than-expected third-quarter figures after discounting and a strong performance from its non-food ranges helped it to its "best ever Christmas."

The UK's third-largest grocer said like-for-like sales excluding fuel rose 4.5% during the 13 weeks to 3 January. Total sales were up 4.8%.

Chief executive Justin King said Sainsbury's enjoyed its "best-ever Christmas performance" in 2008, and had shown it could meet "rapidly changing consumer needs" in the UK.

"Sainsbury's offers great quality products at fair prices and appeals to the full range of customer needs and budgets," he said.

Among the highlights, Sainsbury's "continues to be delighted" with the performance of Tu, its own-brand clothing range.

It is now the eighth largest retailer by volume in the UK clothing market with 2.3% market share.

King warned, however, that "the economic environment remains particularly challenging and we expect this to continue in 2009."

But he added: "Our continued investment in price and promotions along with universal appeal and a wide customer base means we are well positioned to continue our good progress."

Sainsbury's is the first of the UK's major supermarket chains to report its Christmas trading figures.

Its strong results contrast with those from upmarket rival Marks & Spencer, which yesterday posted an 8.9% drop in clothing and general merchandise sales over the 13 weeks to 27 December.

However, the results were not as bad as the market had feared, and analysts welcomed news the chain will close 27 stores and cut its workforce by over 1,200 in an attempt to save costs.