McColl’s has said its losses narrowed over the past year as more people shopped at their local convenience store during the pandemic.

The retailer, with branches in Buckland Parade in Winklebury, Tadley and Elmwood Parade in Elmwood Way, told investors on Tuesday that it delivered a £2.7 million pre-tax loss in the year to November, improving from a £95.9 million loss in the previous year.

This was driven by cost improvements and an increase in sales throughout the year.

Annual sales rose by 3.2% to £1.25 billion for the year after particularly strong demand at the onset of the first national coronavirus lockdown.

Like-for-sales jumped by 12% as the group hailed strong sales of alcoholic drinks, fresh food and tobacco.

It said sales have continued to grow in recent months, with 8.8% like-for-like growth in the 15 weeks to March 14.

McColl’s told shareholders that it has now expanded its wholesale agreement with Morrisons for a further three years and plans to accelerate the expansion of its stores under the Morrisons Daily store format.

It said it expects to have 300 Morrisons Daily stores over the next three years as part of the conversion plan.

The group said it has trimmed its store estate with 179 closures over the full year as part of a restructure.

Jonathan Miller, chief executive of McColl’s, said: “There is a really strong opportunity here for us because we are really pleased with our current store network.

“We are in the neighbourhoods where our customers are and they’ve continued to shop with us throughout this.

“We saw lower levels of those impulse sales, but I think we will see those rebound as people travel more and restrictions ease.”

He added: “Over the last 12 months we have seen strong like-for-like sales growth, driven by the positioning of our stores in key neighbourhood locations and our strong customer offer.

“Despite the operational challenges of the pandemic, we have made good progress on our customer-focused strategic change programme.”

Shares in the business were 0.9% lower at 31.7p in early trading.