Greater numbers of consumers traded down to cheaper food over the Christmas trading period, compared with the year before, show new figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Food sales in December rose by 1.7% in value versus the same month of 2011, show retail figures released today (18 January). The news suggests food has not escaped a sluggish overall retail environment in the UK.

Overall retail sales rose by 0.7% in value for the month, the Office of National Statistics said.

Commenting on the retail figures as a whole, the British Retail Consortium’s director general, Helen Dickinson, said: “Even food, usually dependable at this time of year, showed a slowdown in growth.”

She added: “This suggests that relentlessly tough times led many to ‘trade down’ to cheaper and own-label brands, but also that many economised so that they had more money to spend treating family and friends with nice presents.”

Some food retailers have been upbeat on Christmas trading, however. Online retailer Ocado said this week that gross sales for the six weeks to 6 January rose by 14.2% to GBP91.6m.

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