Food sales in February bucked a slump for a wider retail industry that suffered its worst month of trading for nearly two years.

New figures from the British Retail Consortium showed a worse-than-expected 0.4% decrease in like-for-like sales for the high street as a whole compared with February 2010.

Total sales were up by 1.1% from January, with food sales accounting for much of the growth, up 1% from January.

Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said that the figures pointed to a significant fall in the volume of food sales. “With inflation well and truly in the system, food volumes must have been subdued, probably [falling] by 1% to 2%,” he said.

Black predicted retailers would look to lure shoppers with discounted fuel rather than promotions, which he suggested “have perhaps gone as far as they can for the retailer and customer”.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “After the big boost to January's figures from one-off factors, including a strong final burst of pre-VAT rise spending, February's figures are a return to a more realistic picture of how things are for customers and retailers.

“Customers are cautious and cutting back in a big way on non-essential spending.”

Read more
Grocer Price Index: Food inflation worsens as more categories report rises (26 February 2011)
Editor's Comment: Coming weeks will determine the retail landscape for years to come (19 February 2011)