Sales of stewing beef have gone through the roof as shoppers plump for cheaper and heartier meals during the miserable weather.

Last month's snow had a particular impact on eating habits, driving sales of stewing beef up 35% on December 2009 to £28.8m [AHDB]. Sales of beef mince, meanwhile, were up 13.8% to £47.1m and roasting beef was up 4.8% to £58.5m boosting sales for the total fresh beef category by 11% to £167.3m (or 13% to 285,000 tonnes).

"The cold snap has seen consumers choose more hearty meals, as they are warming and simple and quick to prepare," said Richard Cullen of the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board.

Few people had anticipated higher beef sales in December, he added, as consumers had been expected to struggle to get to the shops in the bad weather. With Christmas falling on a weekend typically a prime time for beef roasts sales had been expected to be depressed further.

Yet they bucked the 2% year-on-year fall in sales in the 12 weeks to 26 December to rise 4.8%. "That we've seen a boost in sales regardless of these factors shows how very popular beef has become at Christmas," said Cullen.

The multiples did particularly well with their beef sales, with Sainsbury's reporting its best-ever sales week for beef in early December, and an 18% year-on-year increase in sales of stewing and casserole beef products.

However, some smaller producers said they had seen sales decline because of logistical problems and the cancellation of events such as farmers markets as a result of the snow.

December 2010 was the coldest month in the UK since February 1986, the 12th-coldest on record and the coldest December in 100 years, with an average temperature of -1c.

Beef sales are forecast to stay strong over the remaining winter months, as Britain prepares for further snow and ice. "Once people have added something like a beef stew to their repertoire, they are unlikely to drop it," added Cullen.