Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Who have been the winners in the big freeze?

The cold spell has caused disruption and difficulties for millions, and to huge economic cost. But not everyone has lost out. So who have been the unlikely beneficiaries?

The economic cost of the freezing weather conditions is still being counted but is sure to run into billions of pounds.

Girl whizzing down snowy slope
Wish you had one of these?

Absenteeism is estimated to have cost £600m on one day alone, Wednesday last week.

On top of that, the High Streets emptied of customers and planes, trains and automobiles struggled to reach their destinations.

But it isn't all gloom for businesses. Obvious winners are those keeping people warm - plumbers, gas companies, shops selling warm clothing, hats and wellies - or keeping them moving, such as mechanics and car parts suppliers. And sledge sellers.

The benefit of more people staying indoors mean pizza delivery companies have done well and even online dating sites report an increase in trade.

But are there more unlikely winners in the big freeze, in the world of commerce and beyond?

CORNER SHOPS

Small food stores been have enjoying a bit of a boom in the past couple of weeks, says Stephen Alambritis, chief spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses. School closures and treacherous conditions mean people shop locally for food, instead of the big supermarkets.

When the bread van pulled up at 9am last Wednesday, people rushed in and it was like the rations again
Tesh Patel, Spar in Bolton

Tesh Patel, manager of a Spar grocery shop in Bolton, says: "It's been great. Bread and milk have just shot out the door. They've been the big sellers and we're between 15 and 20% up in the last week.

"The supermarkets haven't been getting deliveries so word gets round that so-and-so doesn't have bread or milk and so people think they will shop around here instead.

"When the bread van pulled up at 9am last Wednesday, people rushed in and it was like the rations again. I've had to go to the cash-and-carry too, just to keep stocks up."

Mr Patel has worked the same till for 25 years, but says there are new faces coming into his store. Weekend shoppers are dropping in during the week, because parents have been forced to take time off work when schools shut.

Usually, the "Big Four" supermarkets take 89% of food sales. Although normal service is set to resume, says Mr Alambritis, there will be some residual goodwill for the corner shops that helped people through the cold.

SOUP
Soup sales

Sales of fresh soup at Sainsbury's are up nearly a quarter year on year with last week its best ever week for sales.

"The recent cold weather has seen sales of fresh soup increase by a massive 23%. British classics. Leek and potato and broccoli and stilton are proving really popular as people stock up on winter warmers to fight off the cold," says Mark Watson, Sainsbury's fresh soup buyer.

Soup and toasted sandwich
Sales of comfort food are up

At Marks and Spencer, sales of soup in the past fortnight are up 50% compared with last year. Pies are up 30% and tea and coffee sales have increased by a third.

In the week ending on Friday, soup sales at Asda more than doubled compared with the week before, an increase of 34% on last year.

And this week Tesco says it is expecting to sell half a million litres of soup, which would fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools - 60% more than usual for this time of year.

CAR WASHING FIRMS

On Monday, cars queued outside American Car Wash in the City of London, because freezing weather means cars become soiled by grit and salt.

Snow plough throws up grit-laden slush
This is why cars are grubby

"We are very weather-related, more than the ice cream industry," says managing director David Barnett. "When it's snowing heavily, it's extremely quiet - no-one wants their car cleaned. But when it starts to thaw, it gets busy, then extremely busy.

"Cars get very dirty in this weather. Salt and grit gets stuck to the bottom of the car and makes them much more dirty than in summer months.

"There is also a concern that salt can be corrosive, although I'm sure the quality of the paintwork has improved over the years."

POND LIFE

The standard advice to pond owners during freezing cold spells has long been to break a hole to allow oxygen into the water for species like common frogs, dragon flies, shrimps, water beetles and flatworms to breathe.

Ducks on a frozen pond

But new research by environmental group Pond Conservation suggests oxygen levels could actually be higher in a pond that is frozen over.

How much it helps will depend on the pond, says Dr Jeremy Biggs, director of policy and research at Pond Conservation.

"Ponds that have a lot of plants under the water are more likely to have higher oxygen levels because the plants go on photosynthesising.

"And ponds that are quite shallow will too, because a higher proportion of the volume of the pond is generating oxygen."

Beyond brushing snow off the surface to allow light through for photosynthesis, pond owners are best advised to do nothing, he says, because breaking a hole will have a negligible effect.

WINTER SUN DESTINATIONS

It's hard to believe as northern Europe shivers, but the south-east of the continent has been basking in balmy temperatures.

Crete capped a golden three-week period with 30C on New Year's Day, a European record.

Sunbathers in Tel Aviv, at the same time as the UK's cold snap
The scene in Tel Aviv as we shivered

Israel has also benefited, with Tel Aviv's beachfront thronging at the weekend in July-style temperatures.

The reason is the position of the polar jet stream, says BBC weather forecaster Chris Fawkes. This stream of air about 10km above us has been positioned further south than usual, bringing Arctic air to the UK.

"Much of Europe has had a very cold air stream, a northerly jet bringing air across the continent. But in south-east Europe we have had a jet stream that has dragged warm air from Egypt and northern Africa."

It is never consistently cold right across the northern hemisphere, says Mr Fawkes, because it's always balanced by warm weather elsewhere. Iceland and Greenland have also had unseasonably mild weather.

And Scottish ski resorts like Cairngorms are blanketed in exceptional snow cover that is reminiscent of Alpine slopes.

But don't book a last-minute holiday in Greece, he says, because the weather is set to become unsettled again from Tuesday.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
The Scotsman Free food parcels for city's most vulnerable - 11 hrs ago
Telegraph Anger over lonely death of Jean and Derrick Randall amid winter freeze - 13 hrs ago


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