The foot and mouth epidemic sparked "exceptionally strong" food sales in March, according to the British Retail Consortium's KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. Total retail sales increased by 7% compared to March 2000, while like for like sales rose 4.8%. Throughout much of the month, customers were stocking up because meat shortages were feared. An expected dip in meat sales towards the end of the month due to the large supplies customers had built up failed to materialise. Sales of fish, poultry and vegetarian foods increased together with the sale of fresh vegetables and confectionery items. Alcohol sales also fared well with price promotions producing price deflation. BRC director general Bill Moyes said: "We know the picture in rural towns is very different from what these figures suggest and we hope government aid will provide help to affected retailers quickly." Helen MacPhee, director of KPMG's retail consulting team, said: "The strong like for like sales reflect good performance in the food sector, which represents approximately 40% of the total spend." {{NEWS }}