British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has reported a 1.6% increase in total retail sales, excluding its sales of fuel, for the first quarter of the year.

The company said that its sales of grocery, general merchandise and clothing in the quarter had exceeded its expectations.

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Grocery sales in the quarter were up by 0.8%, with more people eating at home due to Covid-19 related restrictions.

Online sales of groceries increased by 29%, up by 142% on a two-year basis.

Sainsbury’s said that its online order numbers had slowly fallen from peak levels, with more customers choosing to buy in-store. Despite this, demand for online shopping has continued to remain high.

The retailer’s general merchandise sales were down by 1.4%, lower than last year’s elevated levels, while clothing sales were up by 57.6%.

The company expects to report underlying profit before tax of at least £660m in the financial year to next March.

Sainsbury’s chief executive Simon Roberts said: “We continue to make good progress against our plan to put food back at the heart of Sainsbury’s and have good momentum within the business.

“Our colleagues are doing a brilliant job of giving great customer service and continuing to adapt as restrictions ease and shopping habits change.

“Over the coming months, we expect to see customer shopping patterns normalise further and we are well set up to serve them however they want to shop.”

Sainsbury’s has announced a £50m investment in targeted price reductions to help customers save while purchasing popular items over the coming months.

Throughout this month, the retailer will reduce the prices of 60 popular fresh produce, meat and dairy products.

In March, Sainsbury’s announced that around 500 of its office roles would be cut as part of proposals to simplify the company’s store support operations.