The Henderson Group has posted a 3.6% year-on-year increase in turnover for 2013, rising to £642.8m.

Profits rose 17.5% to £18.4m for the same period, marking a record year for the Northern Ireland Spar distributor.

Sales and marketing director Paddy Doody said the growth was driven by changing shopper habits, particularly in fresh food.

“Our research shows that consumer demands are changing, with shoppers spending more sensibly, doing ‘top up’ shops to avoid wastage and demanding more locally produced fresh food,” he said. “We have recorded 11% growth in fresh food sales, showing that our investment in that area has paid off and we will be able to extend our offering further by increasing our chilled warehouse facilities following the acquisition of premises at Hydepark, beside our existing site.”

Henderson, which owns the Spar, Eurospar, Vivo and Vivoxtra franchises in Northern Ireland and supplies to over 400 stores, invested £23.1m in the business and acquired the freehold for seven new stores. It plans to spend £13.4m in 2014 on refurbishing stores with additional investment for acquisitions.

Group finance director Ron Whitten said the investment in its retail arm would pay long-term dividends.

“We have developed our range of products and services while continuing to identify operational efficiencies including ongoing investment in technology, particularly in our warehouse management systems, and in our fleet management,” he said.

“While wholesale profits were flat, as a direct result of the investment in retail price support for the benefit of our independent retail partners, the company-owned store division has performed particularly well, doubling its profits from 2012.”