Retail sales rose at their slowest pace for five months in February as food stores suffered their worst performance for more than five years, according to new figures.
The latest CBI survey revealed the grocery sector saw sales fall for the first time since last April, with the lowest reading since November 2008. While overall sales volumes continued to rise in February, growth fell for the third month in a row with 37% of retailers reporting an increase and 29% seeing a fall, giving a net balance of eight.
The decline in grocery sales comes amid the horse meat scandal.
Grocers have also been hit by freezing weather in the UK after last month's snow ensured a difficult start to 2013.
Official figures for January showed that food sales saw the biggest month-on-month fall since May 2011, down 1.6%, as many small grocers were forced to shut up shop. DIY and hardware stores have also beenhit by the freezing weather.
Barry Williams, chair of the CBI Survey Panel and Asda chief food merchandising officer, said: "Worries about the economy, pay freezes and the rising cost of living will mean shoppers remain cautious for the foreseeable future."