Rationalisation is changing the shape of the convenience sector, but the underlying positive trends mean that store numbers are being maintained year on year, according to the latest data from the 2016 Grocery Retail Structure.

The figures, which are compiled by IGD and William Reed, track store number changes in the year to 1 April 2016. For the first time in recent history, symbol group numbers have declined, although there has been a corresponding jump in the number of unaffiliated independents.

A number of factors are at work here, but the key trend is a higher value placed on customer loyalty and businesses that were profitable to serve by symbol operators. There was a significant drop in Londis membership prior to the sale of the brand to Booker in September, and a reclassification of about 200 stores from Landmark Wholesale’s Lifestyle Express as retail club rather than symbol group members.

Symbol group numbers would have fallen further were it not for recruitment from the forecourt sector, where dealer groups have taken over hundreds of oil company-owned sites and put the shop into symbol group membership.

C-store numbers April 2016  2016 2015 Change y-o-y %
 Unaffiliated independents  19,054  18,700  1.9
 Symbol groups (total)  15,141  15,520  -0.7
 Forecourts (incl symbols)  8,748  8,745  0
 Convenience multiples  4,383  4,163  5.3
Co-operatives 2,850 2,765 3.1
Total 47,308 47,311 0

Symbols stay strong

The acquisition of the Musgrave GB business has firmly established Booker as the dominant supplier to UK symbol stores.

Even allowing for a drop in Londis numbers year on year, the group was supplying 4,857 symbol stores across its four fascias on the day of the data capture (1 April), nearly twice as many as Costcutter, the next largest group.

Spar had a strong year for recruitment with store numbers up 4.2% to 2,429, which includes a significant increase in forecourt sites. Nisa, Today’s and Conviviality all increased their symbol group membership during the year.

Your view

“I decided to convert an old newsagent into a modern c-store a year ago, after identifying a need in the community. I think c-stores are popping up because shopper habits have changed and they like to shop little and often.”

Ramesh Shingadia, Londis, Horsham, West Sussex

“Consumer habits are changing and driving growth in convenience. Meanwhile, the offer in stores is getting better, having a positive effect.”

Steve Bassett, three stores, Dorset

* We will print an updated breakdown of symbol group results in our ‘What Fascia’ supplement in July.