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Food sales drive 'bumper' Christmas for retailers

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Hunger for a festive feast led to a "bumper" Christmas and strong finish to 2016 for retailers, a report says.

Like-for-like sales increased by 1% in December compared with the previous year, said the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG research.

Food sales were the major contributor to the growth, with non-food sales sluggish, the BRC said.

Supermarket chain Morrisons reported a 2.9% rise in like-for-like sales over the Christmas trading period.

The retailer said it was its strongest performance for seven years.

Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer are also due to release Christmas trading updates later this week.

Black Friday beaten

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "Despite the slow start to the Christmas trading period, the week itself was a bumper one and exceeded expectations.

"It delivered the majority of sales growth for the month, proving even bigger than the Black Friday period - which is the reverse of what we saw the year before."

Despite this, Ms Dickinson is "not sure we can quite say goodbye to Black Friday yet", she told the BBC, saying sales growth was more to do with the timing of when Christmas Day fell this year - on a Sunday.

"Black Friday for some retailers has become an even more important part of their offer," she said. "The need to discount and to encourage people to shop is still there."

Shoppers held out until the last moment for their festive needs, with sales for Christmas week up 40% compared with other weeks of the month, she said.

Sales grew by 1.2% overall in 2016, but Ms Dickinson warned that 2017 would be a challenge with inflation set to pick up, "and persisting economic and political uncertainty".

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, who help to produce the report, suggested that consumers had "splashed out on treating themselves" ahead of predicted price rises this year.

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