Food and drink has again emerged as the most resilient sector in UK retail, with new figures from the British Retail Consortium showing like-for-like food sales were up by 5.1% in January compared to last year.

Food and drink was the main driver behind a 1.1% rise in underlying sales across all retail sectors and a 3.2% rise in total sales.

The findings will come as a boost to the battered domestic retail market, representing the best performance in the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor since May 2008.

The body said the cold weather meant shoppers were opting for casseroles, comfort foods and seasonal vegetables, while basics and home-baking ingredients also continued to grow in popularity.

“Food and drink is holding up well, suggesting an industry that is recession-resistant,” said IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch. “IGD consumer research demonstrates that shoppers are increasingly price-sensitive, with 36% mentioning price as a main driver of product choice today, compared with 29% this time last year.”

She added: “While they are shopping around for the best value, they are not… letting the recession get in the way of enjoying the high standard of food and drink they consume at home. Support for ethical shopping continues to grow [and] animal welfare, in particular, is high on shoppers’ agendas.”

KPMG retail head Helen Dickinson added: “The results are heavily skewed by food prices creeping back up again after the heavy promotional activity in December and by a reasonably strong performance in the first week of the month, caused by the continuation of a short-lived pick up in spending immediately after Christmas, which ended by the second week.”

BRC director general Stephen Robertson commented: “Food inflation is very low and that has been very helpful indeed. We're blessed in this country with a very competitive food sector.”