Falling fuel prices depressed Morrisons performance over the Christmas period, the company has disclosed.

In its trading statement covering the six weeks to 4 January the company revealed that total sales excluding fuel were down by 1.3% compared with the same period a year ago, and like-for-like sales excluding fuel were down 3.1%.

However, it added: “After passing on the benefit of lower oil prices to our customers, total sales including fuel were down 3.6% and like-for-like sales including fuel were down 5.2%.”

The company also said it had served almost double the number of customers in its convenience store business this year, and a total of five million during the six weeks, and it had opened 17 M local stores so far during the fourth quarter, bringing the total to 46 new stores year to date.

But it also added that it planned to close 10 loss-making stores during 2015.

In a separate statement the company also revealed that it has started the search for a new chief executive. Dalton Philips has been chief executive for five years and has agreed to continue in his role until the year-end results to ensure a smooth transition.

Deputy chairman Andrew Higginson said: “In the next chapter of Morrisons development, we need to return the business to growth. The board believes this is best done under new leadership. I would like to thank Dalton for his contribution as CEO. He has brought great personal qualities and values to his leadership of the business, having had to manage against a background of considerable industry turmoil and change.

“He deserves particular credit for facing into and dealing with the pricing issues that have now become evident, for taking the business into the convenience and online channels, and for the steps he has taken to modernise the company’s operating systems. We wish him well for the future.”