The wholesale sector is expected to grow 1.6% over the next four years on the back of fresh and chilled investment, according to IGD.

Wholesale growth in 2014 stood at 1% but fresh and chilled were star performers, with 5.9% growth through sales to retail.

IGD said independent and affiliated retailers were increasing their fresh and chilled ranges, offering strong growth opportunities for suppliers to the wholesale channel.

James Walton, IGD chief economist, said: “Over the last few years, we have seen all types of wholesaler increasing their investment in fresh and chilled food, developing their ranges and the way they serve their customers.

“There is a clear growth opportunity for those wholesalers and their suppliers that get fresh and chilled right and we expect this to help drive some of the overall growth in wholesale over the next few years.”

However, he warned of tough times ahead for wholesalers, with competition expected to intensify across the board.

“The sector is seeing plenty of consolidation, most notably the recently agreed purchase of Musgrave Retail Partners GB by Booker. Customer numbers are falling and those that remain look set to be bigger, more capable businesses with an even wider variety of needs,” he said.