Fresh and chilled has been the rising star for convenience retailers over the past few years, with many realising that failing to get behind the category will put them at a distinct disadvantage in such a competitive marketplace.
We first conducted a survey into the fresh and chilled offers available to independents two years ago, and this - our second poll - shows that wholesalers and fascia groups are throwing their weight behind the category like never before.
Many of the groups have increased their ranges, offering independents a far wider choice than two years ago. Musgrave Retail Partners has increased its fresh and chilled offer most markedly. Its Budgens retailers can now access some 2,000 chilled lines and 1,500 fresh lines, compared with 600 and 425 respectively in 2006, giving those stores a much stronger platform from which to compete with the multiples.
Londis retailers, meanwhile, can get their hands on a 1,500-strong line of chilled and 1,000 fresh - a huge increase from two years ago when Londis stores only had access to 300 chilled and 160 fresh lines.
In 2006 Nisa boasted that its fresh and chilled range was growing by 20% year on year and, two years later, its total fresh and chilled offer has grown from 1,800 to 2,385, proving that it's not far off continuing that growth rate.
Supply of fresh produce is improving, too, with many wholesalers adding more lines. Spar, in particular, is showing a stronger commitment to fresh produce, with two of its wholesalers who responded to the survey, Appleby Westward and CJ Lang, adding loose produce to their offer.
While all of the companies in our survey offer a delivered service, be it direct or drop shipment, frequency varies from daily to three times a week - something that should be considered by any retailer looking to change their route of supply.
Lead times are another important consideration and efficient advance ordering systems are vital for fresh and chilled. The average is 48 hours, and P&H has increased its lead time from 24 hours to 48 since our last survey in 2006.
Despite all the support available to independents, Landmark claims that chilled is showing less than 1% participation in independent stores, compared with 8% across symbols, and 11% throughout the total convenience market. And, according to Costcutter, chilled sales should be 18-20% of store turnover - anything less and you could be selling yourself short.