SUPERMARKET chain Morrisons admitted its Christmas sales were below par after feeling the heat from rivals.

The UK’s fourth-biggest grocer, which employs about 130,000 staff at 455 stores in the UK, reported a 2.5 per cent decline in like-for-like sales for the six weeks to December 30, a performance it labelled as “disappointing”.

Despite the latest drop in sales, which follows a 2.1 per cent decline in the previous quarter, Morrisons said it remained on track to meet profit expectations.

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It is the first of the big four UK supermarket groups to report Christmas sales. Tesco’s Christmas figures will be out on Thursday while Sainsbury’s will update the markets tomorrow and both are expected to have out performed Morrisons.

Chief executive Dalton Philips said that with consumer confidence fragile he expected difficult market conditions to continue through this year.

He has yet to decide whether Morrisons will launch an online food offer but is researching the possibility and will say more when the firm publishes full-year results in March.

“We’re not too late to the party, it (internet sales) is still only five per cent of the market.

So in terms of the long term we haven’t lost out,” he said.

“This is a market where for 12 years people haven’t made money and we want to do the right thing both for our shareholders and our customers.”

Morrisons also failed to make inroads into the growing convenience store market.

It plans to have opened 70 smaller high street stores by the end of the year.

The business, which has the majority of its branches in the North, has also been affected shoppers defecting to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

Morrisons said that despite the disappointing six-week period it still expected its fullyear results to be in line with its previous forecasts.

It is in the process of revamping its advertising, and hopes to see a lift having announced at the end of last week that it had signed Ant and Dec to front its commercials.

Morrisons will also be sponsoring some of their Saturday night television programmes such as Britain’s Got Talent and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway