UK retailers have seen the sharpest fall in food volumes in almost a quarter of a century, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

UK food sales volumes fell 4.2% in June against the same period in 2010, which the ONS said was “the largest fall on record since the series began in 1988”. In value terms, sales were up 1.3%.

Over the last 18 months, there have been only two months when volumes rose, the ONS said yesterday (21 July). This April, volumes were up 1.4% growth; in January 2010, volumes climbed 1.1%.

The ONS said yesterday (21 July) found that both large and small stores saw volumes decline in June. Sales volumes at larger outlets fell 4.2%. At small stores, volumes slid 4.4%.

According to the ONS data, food prices are estimated to have increased by 5.8% year-on-year. The UK’s inflation rate stands at 4.2%.

Overall, UK retail sales rose 4% in value terms in June year-on-year. Volumes increased 0.4%.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “These figures are better but still not great. After a volatile start to 2011 our own results showed signs of improvement for June, although the growth was very slight. This is in line with the Government’s official figures.”

However, he added: “There are worrying signs that the food sector, so far the most resilient part of retail, has slowed a little.”