Department and food store operator John Lewis Partnership is expecting a "very tough" 2009 after the company posted a 26% fall in full-year profit to GBP279.6m (US$386.4m).

The company, which runs John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, registered an overall sales increase of 3% to GBP6.97bn in the year ended 31 January.

Operating profit was down 18% to GBP323.5m.

However, the company said John Lewis store sales had held up well "against an uncertain and turbulent market", edging down 0.1% to GBP2.81bn, with like-for-likes falling 3.4%.

The chain was boosted by the performance of its fashion division, where sales climbed 4.7% thanks to attracting new brands and an improvement to JL-branded clothing design and value.

John Lewis Direct sales rose 24.2% to GBP332.9m, but operating profit slipped 27.4% to GBP144.4m.

"It was a very tough year and we met the challenges of the deteriorating conditions," said Charlie Mayfield, John Lewis Partnership chairman.

"We controlled costs tightly, traded confidently and stayed true to our customer promise of quality and price competitiveness."

The company said it expected trading conditions to continue to be very tough during 2009, adding that sales across the company had fallen 1.6% in the first five weeks of fiscal 2009, with John Lewis store sales down 6.8%, or 8.8% in like-for-like terms.