Retailers expect to net sales of £8bn over Easter, but forecasted poor weather is dampening the prospect of a bumper Easter break.

Food and drink will account for £4.2bn of Easter sales, according to Nielsen data. Nearly £280m will be spent on Easter eggs, and hot cross bun sales are set to top £20m over a six-week period, with initial results showing a 10% increase on last year.

However, overall increases are much lower than comparable figures in 2006 and 2007, said Mike Watkins, senior manager retailer services, for Nielsen.

“This year it's difficult for retailers to know how strong Easter trading will be with consumer spending being squeezed,” he said.

“Easter growths are considerably slower in a number of sectors compared with the first two weeks of Easter in 2007. It's possible that any last minute rush to buy food and indulgences will be less marked than last year when the weather was unseasonably warm.”

“The early Easter could be a mixed blessing,” added British Retail Consortium director-general Stephen Robertson. “With personal finances under pressure and evidence that customers are cutting back on non-essentials, retailers are eager for the Easter boost. But the predicted poor weather is likely to mean a March Easter is weaker than last year's warm and sunny April one.”