The new store counts, published this week in the IGD's Convenience Retailing 2006 report, show that there was a net decline of 980 unaffiliated independents in the c-store market last year. While this decline of 3.6% is smaller than the 7.4% who dropped out of the sector in 2004-05, it now means that, for the first time, unaffiliated independents represent less than half of UK c-stores with 25,893 outlets, a 49.2% share.
While unaffiliated independents have slumped, symbol retailers have perfomed well, according to the new data. The symbol population grew by 5.1% to 13,035 in the year to April 2006, but the sales value through these outlets grew even faster. The IGD reports that sales through symbol c-stores grew by 10.2% to £8.2bn, making symbols the biggest sector of the market by value for the first time.
However, the biggest sales increases have been experienced by convenience multiples, which grew their sales by 16% during the year despite only a 2% net increase in outlet numbers.
The report values the convenience store sector - sales through stores of less than 3,000sq ft with a wide product range - at £24.9bn, an increase of 4% on the previous year. While this is a slowdown compared with the previous three years, it still represents growth ahead of the overall grocery market, with the effect that small stores now capture 20.1% of grocery sales, a small but significant increase on the 19.6% share in 2001.
IGD business manager David Gordon said: "Within convenience, growth is still there for the taking. Changes in consumer lifestyles are presenting opportunities and the successful retailers will be those that can get in on these trends.
"Despite the growth of the convenience multiples, independents and symbols taken together still account for more than 60% of convenience sales value, and it is important that suppliers recognise that these channels are vital in terms of route to market."