LONDON — Marks & Spencer Plc reported group sales increased 1.9 percent at constant exchange rates in the 13 weeks to March 28, and 1.6 percent at actual exchange rates.

The British retailer noted U.K. sales gained 2.7 percent, and 0.7 percent on a same-store basis.

General merchandise sales, which includes clothing, were up 1.3 percent and 0.7 percent on a same-store basis, while clothing sales rose 1.2 percent, with same-store clothing sales up 0.6 percent.

The retailer said it is on track to improve its general merchandise gross margin to between 150 and 200 basis points.

Food sales saw the strongest gains, up 3.7 percent in the quarter, with same-store food sales rising 0.7 percent. Online sales gained 13.8 percent.

Marks & Spencer reported only percentage figures Thursday, and is set to report its full annual results May 20.

Marc Bolland, chief executive of M&S, said the retailer had made “strong progress” over the quarter, calling the performance in food “excellent.” “We continued to deliver on general merchandise gross margin, and are pleased that we have achieved this whilst also improving general merchandise sales,” he stated.

The retailer noted that its women’s wear sales had improved over the period, with the retailer pointing to its spring clothing ranges being “well received by customers,” along with looks being picked up by the fashion press, such as one Seventies-style suede skirt.

The company said it promoted less and focused on full-price sales in general merchandise, but that  was partly off-set by more stock going into the Christmas sale following an unseasonably warm fall in Europe.

In contrast to the U.K. performance, international sales were down 3.8 percent at constant exchange rates and 6.3 percent at actual exchange rates. The firm noted that its franchise business in Russia, Ukraine and Turkey had been affected by “macro-economic issues,” along with the weakening euro, both of which have “significantly impacted international second half profit,” M&S said. It added that priority markets such as India “continue to perform well.”

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