Like-for-like food sales increased by 4.2% during the three months to March, while total sales exceeded the 3-month and 12-month average, according to the latest BRC–KPMG sales monitor.

Total food sales increased by 5.3% over the same period, the strongest 3-month average since July 2009. Meanwhile, overall UK retail sales increased by 2.3% in March  - consistent with the three-month and 12-month averages of 1.1% and 1.5% respectively. Like-for-like total retail sales grew by 1.4%, helped by an early Easter.

However, during the three months to March, total sales of non-food items declined 1.0%, below the 12-month average of 0%.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “March paints a volatile picture for sales, which experienced peaks and troughs to deliver some modest growth on last year. The positive distortion from the timing of Easter pushed sales up by over 15 per cent during the holiday week compared with the rest of the month, only just making up for a sub-zero performance at the start of the month.

“There’s no doubt that the ‘Beast from the East’ and its successor played a significant role in deterring shoppers from making store visits. But it didn’t dampen consumers’ appetites towards food purchases, which saw the anticipated spike from the Easter festivities. This was in stark contrast to non-food sales which, despite some promotional- driven activity, bore the brunt of consumers’ disinterest in typical Springtime purchases, as well as the ongoing spending squeeze on non- essentials.

KPMG’s head of retail Paul Martin added: “March was difficult for large parts of the UK retail industry. Seemingly endless cold weather dissuaded would-be shoppers from the high street and a number of retailers delivered bad news. Great hopes were placed on Easter trading, but whilst the latest figures point to overall improvement when compared to recent months, the Easter boost didn’t quite measure up to previous years.

“The divide between food and non-food sales became further pronounced, with food clearly the winner. This came at the expense of other categories, with few others noting growth.

IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said: “Spring performance is often hard to judge, with varying Easter dates making for difficult year on year comparisons. The bad weather conditions businesses have faced this season add further complexity - April trading may give us a clearer picture.

“Despite this, UK grocery retailers reported growth last month. Price change continues to provide some support, but there are now signs that inflation is slackening, both in the grocery market and wider economy. This, coupled with rising wages, may encourage shoppers to spend more as the year progresses.”