Food store sales increased by just +0.3% in value in December 2018 compared with the previous month, as total retail sales decreased by -0.9% in value, according to official new data.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data revealed that year-on-year food store sales value increased 0.9%, while volume saw a rise of 0.5%. Total retail sales in value and volume increased 3.7% and 3% respectively.

The study of 5,000 businesses also showed that the overall decline was driven by a fall in the purchase of non-essential items across the UK.

Online retailing accounted for one fifth (20%) of total retailing in December, with an overall growth of 13.9% when compared with the same month a year earlier, while annual growth rates increased by 2.7% in volume across the whole of 2018, marking an annual slowdown in comparison with the peak of 4.7% experienced in 2016.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) head of retail insights and analytics, Rachel Lund, said: “Today’s figures confirm that there was a sharp slow-down in spending in December, as the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, and other sources reported earlier in the month.

“Most striking is the weakness of non-food, where it was only an apparent strong performance from small stores that pulled year on year growth into positive territory as larger stores saw sales sink. Even large internet retailers did not emerge unscathed, as year on year growth in value terms sank to 4.3%, its lowest rate of growth in more than eight years.

“After two years looking to savings and credit to support spending, and with the continued economic uncertainty around the UK’s departure from the EU, consumers were clearly being cautious with their finances over the festive period; waiting and responding only to great deals. With wage growth picking up, we expect retail spending to improve over the year; but first we need a deal for leaving the EU that gives businesses and consumers some certainty over their financial outlook.”