Retail like-for-likes unexpectedly jumped 2.7% in February, representing the fastest growth since December 2009.

In the same month a year ago like-for-likes were down 0.3%, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) KPMG Retail Sales Monitor said.

Total sales increased 4.4% last month against a 2.3% rise in February last year. Excluding distortions caused by the timing of Easter, total sales increased at the fastest rate since February 2010.

Despite the strong performance, food delivered a “disappointing” result due in part to tough year-on-year comparisons when sales were boosted by the cold weather, but KPMG head of retail David McCorquodale added sales may have been stunted by the horse meat scandal.

IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said:“Although there was a lot of ‘switch buying’, such as a fall in frozen burger sales in favour of more ingredients to cook from scratch, the overall effect on food and drink sales was neutral.”

The best performer in February was the ‘other non-food’ category, which was driven by electricals, as sales of tablets, computers, sounds and vision products sold well in the month. Some retailers also benefited from the collapse of Comet and Jessops.

Clothing sales grew at the strongest rates in five months, driven by children’s clothing.

Online sales surged 10.9% in February against a 9.9% increase last year. Health and beauty was a top performer via the channel as shoppers stocked up for Valentine’s Day, while end of season Sales meant clothing also performed well.

BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said: “There are certainly highly welcome signs here of gradual improvement and customers feeling a bit more positive. February saw growth across all parts of retailing, with big-ticket goods and items for the home recovering particularly well, possibly reflecting better conditions in the housing market.”

Despite a stronger month of sales, Dickinson added: “It’s too soon to assume this represents the turnaround we need.”

She urged the Government to use the opportunity that the Budget provides to reveal measures to help the retail sector grow and put more money into consumers’ pockets.