Food retailers reported robust sales volumes last year reflecting a strong performance from the British retail sector as a whole. 

Growth in retail sales volumes picked up strongly in the year to May and expectations for next month are at their highest for 27 years, according to the CBI’s latest quarterly Distributive Trades Survey.

Orders placed with suppliers also rose more quickly than anticipated – at the fastest pace since December 2010 – while sales were well above average for the time of year – to the greatest extent since April 2007.

The survey of 134 firms, including 63 retailers, showed that growth in both the volume of retail sales and orders exceeded expectations in May. Firms remain optimistic that both sales and orders are set to rise at an even stronger pace in the year to June.

Most retail sub-sectors reported robust growth in sales volumes, including grocers and non-specialised stores, which rebounded from negative showings in the previous month to record strong performances.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI director of economics, said: “Retailers will be encouraged to see growth in sales and orders on the high street bounding ahead. Low inflation, which we expect to remain below 1% for the rest of the year, has given household incomes a much-needed boost and greater spending power.

“Overall the outlook is bright for firms on the high street, but challenges still remain, especially for food retailers, who are still feeling the heat of stiff price competition from new entrants to the sector. And investment plans have also taken a hit.”

Internet sales volumes rose firmly again in the year to May. However, the rate of growth eased off slightly on the previous month, and fell back below its long-run average.