Market research this week had identified Tesco as a festive victor, but the group said lower sales of general merchandise and the collapse of a tobacco supplier cast a shadow over a record week of trading before December 25.
Tesco has posted a like-for-like sales increase of 2.2% in its United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland operations over the 19-week period incorporating its third quarter and Christmas.
The clothing market was particularly weak in October and food sales have been continuously underperforming, he said.
Tesco and Sainsbury's have announced "best ever" Christmas trading periods, as Asda and M&S lose ground.
Analyst Adam Tomlinson at Liberum said: "A tough October impacted and the business carried more stock into its December sales than planned".
The supermarket group revealed that sales over the festive period grew 4% when compared to the same period in 2016.
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"Our trading momentum accelerated across the third quarter and into December, with the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day delivering record sales and volumes in the United Kingdom", chief executiuve Dave Lewis said.
Mr Rowe said on food, the group had "a lot to do to get our business back on track" having disappointed in the last few quarters despite rivals enjoying a sales boost from rising inflation.
Department store John Lewis shrugged off any gloom with a 3.1% hike in sales over the six weeks to December 30, while its sister company Waitrose booked a rise of 1.5%.
Clothing and homeware fell 2.8%, while food, seen as its most successful sector, was down 0.4%.
M&S also did not take part in Black Friday, which helped buoy John Lewis results. For Tesco, shares of which were also dented by weak merchandise sales, there's no question it remains in good enough shape to absorb such disappointments.
However, group tobacco sales declined by 2.6 per cent with tobacco like-for-likes down 2.1 per cent and as a result, total sales were up 3.4 per cent and like-for-likes were up 3.8 per cent.
Catherine Shuttleworth, chief executive at retail marketing agency Savvy, said: "We think that the M&S food shopper has in part been lured away to the discounters this Christmas with their enhanced premium ranges and outstanding wines and spirits offers".