BRC reports retail sales increase
Retail sales grew at their fastest rate in more than three years last month despite the horse meat scandal which has rocked many of the big grocers, according to new figures.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said like-for-like February retail sales were up 2.7% on the previous year - the highest figure since December 2009 - as electronic goods such as tablet computers continued to be the "growth engine" of the sector.
Underlying food sales were up 1% despite the horse meat scandal that is engulfing retailers across the UK and Europe, after traces were discovered in frozen burgers and have been found since then in processed beef products and prepared meals across the European Union.
Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of IGD, which provides food data, 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."
But the figures are at odds with the latest CBI survey which found food stores suffered their worst performance for more than five years in February, with sales falling for the first time since last April.
Grocers were also hit by freezing weather in the UK after the January 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.
But the continuing cold weather boosted sales of cold and flu remedies, as well as knitwear last month, according to the BRC.
It said clothes sales grew at the fastest rate for five months, also driven by demand for jackets and casual wear for children.
Valentine's Day perfume demand helped the health and beauty sector post its strongest performance since December 2011 while the improved housing market conditions meant beds and sofas were "standout performers".