Waitrose toasted a record Christmas today as it highlighted the pressure faced by Britain’s big grocers from the premium end of the market.

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The business said like-for-like sales in stores were up 4.1% on the previous year for the 12 days ending December 31, helped by a strong performance from an own brand range endorsed by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

December 23 was a record day when the upmarket chain’s check-outs rung up £51million in takings as an average of 22,000 items were sold every minute.

For the five week period ending on Christmas Eve, like-for-like sales were up 3.1%, while online grocery sales increased 33.4%. Managing director Mark Price said there had been a late influx of sales.

The figures are not directly comparable with quarterly trading numbers from rival Sainsbury’s also published today but appear healthier than its 0.2% like-for-like rise over the 14 weeks to January 4.

Sainsbury’s said its takings were boosted by a 10% improvement in its own premium Taste the Difference brand, highlighting the importance of targeting higher spending customers.

At Waitrose, click-and-collect helped drive footfall with 619,000 collections from branches during the period.

The chain, part of the John Lewis Partnership, said volume growth had been driven by increased competitiveness on price as well as the success of the myWaitrose card, with customer visits up by 10.4% on last year.

It comes after some regular customers were apparently upset that its offer of a free hot drink with the card was attracting less well-heeled visitors who apparently have no intention of shopping.

Mr Price said: “Our performance this Christmas continues our sustained growth for the last five years.

“We’ve done well by giving people exactly what they want - high quality products, excellent value and superb service both in our shops and online.”

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