Hongkongers spent less on fresh and frozen food in September as prices soared for fish, livestock and poultry. But expensive goods like electronics and jewellery were still hot items among mainland tourists. 'Beside food, sales volumes for fruit and vegetables, books, newspapers and furniture to local residents all fell in September,' said Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the HK Retail Management Association. 'A possible economic slowdown will further hurt local consumption, and we'll see the negative impact become more obvious in the first and second quarters next year.' Mainland tourists snapping up luxury items offset weakening local consumption, with retail sales rising 24.1 per cent to HK$31.2 billion in September compared to the year-earlier period. In terms of volume, sales registered 15.2 per cent year-on-year growth in September. She forecast that October retail sales would continue to grow in double digits, but the sector could slow early next year. 'For next year ... it will be hard to repeat this year's monthly sales growth of between 26 per cent and 29 per cent,' she said. For the first nine months of 2011, total retail sales increased by 25.4 per cent in terms of value and 19.2 per cent in terms of volume over the same period a year earlier. 'Retailers are facing a more challenging business environment as a weakening economic outlook coincides with a time of rising rents, soaring inflation and increased labour costs because of the introduction of the minimum wage,' she said. Donna Kwok, greater China economist with HSBC, said: 'With mainland visitors averaging two million plus per month, wages on the rise for well over a year and employment sitting at a record high, it's no wonder consumer spending growth has yet to feel a noticeable chill.'