Coronavirus: Record food sales growth fails to prevent worst March for retail | Business News

Official figures have charted a record surge in food sales growth though the wider retail sector endured its worst March on record as the coronavirus crisis shuttered stores.

The data, produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed supermarkets were clear winners during the month as shoppers dashed to stock cupboards with everyday items in the run-up to the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions from 23 March.

Sales volumes were 10.4% up on February – a record spurt of growth – while online sales reached a record share of all retail spending at 22.3% during the month as stores closed and consumers ventured outside less.

Shoppers peruse near-empty toilet roll shelves at a  supermarket in the centre of York, northern England, on March 19, 2020. - Britain's supermarkets on Wednesday stepped up efforts to safeguard supplies, especially for vulnerable and elderly customers, as the sector battles stockpiling caused by coronavirus panic. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
March saw a rush for many everyday items such as loo roll, pasta and flour

The high demand for groceries helped prop up the wider retail sales figures though widespread shop closures across the economy meant volumes were 5.1% down as a whole.

Clothing store sales were a staggering 34% lower, the figures showed.

Fuel sales were 2% lower on a monthly basis.

ONS head of retail sales, Rhian Murphy, said: “Retail sales saw their biggest monthly fall since records began over 30 years ago with large declines in clothing and fuel, only partially offset by strong food sales.

“Online-only retailers saw strong growth though, with many high street stores also unsurprisingly seeing a boost to web sales.”

In value terms, the retail sector lost 5.7%.

The figures pile agony on an industry that was already reeling from a collapse in consumer spending before the coronavirus crisis took hold.

The lockdown has forced a string of chains, including Laura Ashley, BrightHouse and Debenhams, into administration while hundreds of thousands of store staff nationwide are furloughed from their jobs pending the lifting of restrictions.

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