Tins and packets are back, says David Rees, but don't ignore other areas of expansion

Conventional wisdom in the convenience trade has in recent years encouraged retailers to cut down on packaged grocery and move into more dynamic areas such as fresh & chilled and food to go instead.

This wisdom was, of course, framed in buoyant economic times. Now that HMS UK is sinking, it seems that shoppers are clinging on to more familiar solutions. According to our friends at SalesOut, cooking ingredients are up more than 29%, pasta and rice over 20% and sauces and condiments over 11% in the independent sector. It's boom time for stay-at-home family catering.

However, these more traditional categories are not exactly margin-positive for independents. You have to offer what your customers want, but you need to invest in your future as well, and lower-margin goods widely available in supermarkets and discounters are not a recipe for long-term success.

So this surge in more traditional lines doesn't mean that you should abandon moves to develop fresh & chilled or food to go. The good news is that these areas still provide plenty of opportunities during a recession as shoppers want to cut down on eating out and on food wastage acquired as part of a big weekly supermarket shop.

It's clear to me that all the effort that retailers, retail chains and wholesalers have put in to raise standards in our sector is starting to pay off, with consumers seeing the benefit of a regular local shop, whatever their particular tastes or personal reaction to the recession.

Help us to help you

I don't know how often you look at the carriage sheet - the bit inside the polythene wrapper with your name and address printed on it - when your copy of C-Store arrives, but I would ask you to look very closely at the one that arrived with this issue.

This time round it's a research questionnaire, and we would really like you to fill it in and return it to us so we know what you think. Not only are there cash prizes up for grabs to thank you for your time, it will also help us to make sure that your favourite business fortnightly remains attuned to your needs both now and in the future.

For those of you who are already looking to the future, you can also complete the questionnaire online at www.thegrocer.co.uk/independents. I really hope you can spare a few minutes to share your thoughts with us. Thank you in advance.