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Jamie Oliver helps Sainsbury's to a winning Christmas

Sainsbury's was this year's Christmas winner after its Jamie Oliver fronted advertising campaign helped the group outshine rivals, according to research today.

Sainsbury's beat its supermarket competitors to claim the biggest rise in market share, up from 14.9% to 15.4% in the 12 weeks to December 25, figures from market research firm Nielsen showed.

The group's performance left larger rivals Asda and Tesco in the shade, despite spending the least of the "big four" players on advertising over the Christmas period.

Nielsen figures showed Sainsbury's spent around £24.8 million on advertising over the October to December quarter in a pre-Christmas campaign led once again by celebrity chef and television personality Jamie Oliver.

Asda forked out the most on ads, at £40.5 million, but failed to boost its market share, which held firm at 15.8%.

The UK's biggest supermarket Tesco, which splashed out £38.3 million on advertising, managed to increase its share of festive spend to 27.8% from 27.6% a year earlier.

Today's market share data comes ahead of keenly-awaited trading updates next week from Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury's, when the chains will reveal how they fared amid the snow and ice.

Nielsen said sales grew across the food retail sector by 6.9% in December thanks to a record-breaking performance in the week before Christmas, which made up for lacklustre trade during the severe weather earlier in the month.

Sales soared by 16% to £3.4 billion in the week to December 25 as shoppers rushed out after the snow and ice thawed - the largest sales week ever recorded by Nielsen.

But it looked a tougher year for Morrisons, the fourth biggest chain, which saw its market share slip to 10.8% from 11% in a reversal of 2009 when it claimed the top spot.

This came despite Morrisons spending £26.8 million on ads in the run-up to Christmas, according to the Nielsen data covering all spend in October and November, but not cinema, online, outdoor or direct mail ad spend in December.

A star-studded campaign for Marks & Spencer - featuring the likes of comedian Peter Kay, Twiggy and Dannii Minogue - helped the retailer hold its share steady at 3.7% in the 12-week period.

Premium food chain Waitrose increased its share to 3.8% from 3.6%.

Mike Watkins, senior manager of retailer services at Nielsen, said: "The weather gave us a white Christmas, but we had an orange Christmas where supermarkets were concerned.

"Sainsbury's expansion programme that has created additional in-store space, much given over to non-food merchandise, would have certainly contributed to this success in addition to the retailer's long-standing reputation in fresh food and private label quality."