Annual sales through symbol group retailers have broken the £10bn barrier for the first time after another strong year for the convenience store sector.

The latest market figures from IGD value symbol group sales at £10.4bn in the 12 months to April 2009, up 7.7% on the previous year. This was achieved despite a growth in store numbers of only 2% to 14,630. Overall, the convenience store market achieved sales of £29.1bn - an annual rise of 6.1% - from a total market of 48,751 stores (down by 1.6%). Following the pattern of recent years, this value growth once again outstripped that in the grocery sector overall, where sales are increasing by 5.1%.

Unaffiliated independents continue to decline in numbers, although remaining stores performed reasonably well, with average sales growth of more than 4%. However, store numbers in this sector fell by 5% to a new low of 21,950, due in part to ongoing recruitment by symbol groups.

Elsewhere in the convenience market, multiple operators continued to expand with an 8% increase in store numbers to 2,812 and a 12.7% increase in sales, while the Co-op sector achieved an increase in turnover of 7.9% from a largely static store base. Forecourt numbers are up for the first time in many years, with a net increase of 12 stores, possibly signalling an end to the recent pattern of site closures.

IGD senior business analyst Stewart Samuel told C-Store: "These figures demonstrate the resilience of grocery in a tough climate, and we shouldn't underestimate how well the

c-store market has performed in the past year. We are forecasting continued growth with market value reaching £39.7bn by 2014. We also expect symbol groups to continue to expand."

He added: "Against a backdrop of recession, price inflation and rising unemployment it will be tough to get sales growth, but

c-store retailers have already responded proactively by attracting spend away from foodservice operators and with an increased focus on value."
❝Being part of a symbol group makes my job easier. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have the range of products and I'd spend all my time chasing suppliers. A symbol group offers huge support."

Steve Bassett

Londis Weymouth, Dorset

❝The Holborn's brand is well known and trusted in the community, and if we joined a group we would lose that. We are doing very well despite the economy, and I believe one of our strongest points is our name and history."

Dean Holborn

Holborn's, Redhill, Surrey

❝ We are part of the Booker retail club which allows us to retain our independence and benefit from deals and pos. It's the best of both worlds."

William Brown

Frankmarsh Stores, Devon