Food sales by volume declined 3.4% in December, the lowest on record since the index began in 1988.

It also represents the eleventh consecutive monthly fall.

Overall retail sales by volume remained flat last month compared to the year before, with sales in non-food up 3.1%. Textiles, clothing and footwear performed well.

The Office for National Statistics, which compiled the figures, said the severe weather could be to blame for the drop in food sales, as shoppers flocked to local convenience stores rather than large supermarkets.

Non store retail sales jumped 14.5%.

Month-on-month, sales volume fell 0.8% overall while increasing 0.4% year-on-year in the three months to December.

Sales by value increased 2% in December, compared with the previous year.

Grant Thornton UK head of retail Barry Knight said: “The Christmas season provided a mixture of fortunes for the retail sector with the snow and looming VAT increases having a significant impact on trading patterns.”
Kinght said the 2% rise in sales values “may look alright on the surface” but is “not particularly sparkling” compared with the rest of the year.

“I am not sure we will get a true picture as to what has happened until there is clarity around achieved margin,” he said.