One of the more interesting dynamics in the convenience sector in recent years has been how independent operators have adapted their ranges to offer a point of difference to the multiples and to provide a compelling offer to local shoppers.

Central to this has been products from small, local and regional suppliers. What started off several years ago as a small selection of cakes and chutneys has, in many stores, grown into an array of butcher’s meats, premium pies, sauces and locally-grown fruit & veg.

It sounds expensive, and in some ways it is. Prices are higher, suppliers are not necessarily consistent in packaging, labelling and availability, and wastage – as with all fresh product – is an issue. But such has been their success that independents should be asking whether they can afford not to stock them.

The recession has undoubtedly hit shoppers, but good quality food has never been so popular (as a thousand TV programmes demonstrate). And don’t underestimate the ongoing impact of the horsemeat scandal, either, with every food label now scrutinised.

Independent retailers are getting better at knowing what to ask for when sourcing products, too, and many great stores have built their success on strong relationships with suppliers. And for what it’s worth, here’s one more piece of advice: trust your staff.

We’ve just completed the judging for this year’s Sales Assistant of the Year competition, which was an absolute pleasure as always. It’s noticeable just how many of the sales assistants who entered are making a huge contribution to their businesses by being trusted to build relationships with local suppliers. It’s paying off for all concerned.