Happy new year to everyone, and with such unprecedented change about to sweep through the independent convenience sector, 2018 will certainly be all about the “new”.

Whether it will be “happy” as well remains to be seen. Most retailers I have spoken to over the past couple of months are still cautiously optimistic, but with competition increasing, costs rising and a lack of stimulus to boost consumer spending, the caution is outweighing the optimism.

And the new year is bringing with it more than the customary amount of change, with Booker-Tesco and Nisa-Co-op-Costcutter all due to complete within months. Against this uncertainty, it isn’t surprising that many are looking at the marketplace warily.

But now is not the time to be passive. Surely a better strategy is to focus on being good at the things that you can do. Last week I was in Northern Ireland visiting stores as part of our Convenience Retail Awards programme and, as ever whenever I visit, I was very impressed by what I saw.

Despite multiple competition and a growing presence from the discounters, store owners had invested heavily in the areas where they had a point of difference and a growing customer base, such as in fresh meat and artisan bread from local butchers and bakers, food to go and ‘fakeaway’ meals prepared in on-site kitchens, and a focus on quality alcohol lines.

Convenience is not a one-size-fits-all industry, and business opportunities are always going to remain local rather than national, but in uncertain times there is still a lot to be said for investing in the future.