The severe weather of recent weeks contributed to a slight fall in like-for-like sales on the high street last month, with food sales proving more resilient than non-food.

Figures from the British Retail Consortium reveal a 0.3% drop in like-for-like sales in December, with total sales up just 1.5%.

In the past three months, food sales were up 2.1% on a like-for-like basis and up 4.4% overall. Warming comfort foods, such as stewing meats, root vegetables and pies performed strongly, while sales of Champagne were also up.

As expected, local convenience stores benefited from the harsh weather, with shoppers reluctant to travel to out-of-town sites.

“The gap between food and non-food grew [in December] as the non-food sectors saw a decline in the value of sales against Christmas of 2009, whereas food sales growth continued at close to the existing run rate,” said Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG.

“The contrast between pre- and post- Christmas was stark for both food and non-food retailers. Food sales dropped off after a good pre-Christmas week. In contrast, non-food improved as shoppers headed out in the final week to take advantage of clearance bargains in advance of the VAT rise.”

“Challenging economic conditions and two bouts of exceptional winter weather were always going to put pressure on retailers in December,” said IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch. “In the end, the early part of the month saw moderate food and grocery sales growth, with a surge in the final Christmas week.”

She warned that April’s increase in National Insurance, coupled with this month’s VAT hike, would continue to heap pressure on retailers fighting for business.

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