Food store sales fell by 0.2% over the month to February 2022, 0.1% below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the drop in sales was led by a 16.1% fall in sales in alcohol and tobacco stores.
The ONS said this could be “linked to higher spending in pubs and restaurants as confidence increased in going out.”
Supermarkets reported an increase of 0.3% over the month but that was offset by falls in specialist food stores of 2%.
“After a buoyant January, retail sales fell back a little last month. There was a notable decline for companies that predominantly trade online, following a strong performance over the festive and new year period,” ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators Heather Bovill said.
“Food sales dipped with significant falls for alcohol and tobacco stores as more consumers went out to pubs and restaurants.”
The news comes after inflation reached a 30-year high of 6.2% in February with food inflation reaching 5.1%.
Fidelity International associate director Emma-Lou Montgomery said to The Guardian: “We face an increasingly tricky financial situation, with rising costs meaning it is going to have to be necessities over ‘nice to haves’ for months to come.
“There is little end in sight. Concerns that inflation will go much higher than the initially predicted 8% are rife, further impacting people’s willingness and ability to spend on anything more than the bare essentials.”