Henderson Group, the Spar distributor for Northern Ireland, achieved an 11% increase in turnover to £500m last year.

The group's financial director Ron Whitten said sales had risen in all categories and all divisions during 2009 despite tough trading conditions.

The figures also reflected the benefits of recent investment in new company sites, developing independent retailers' businesses and new technology, all of which offered good long-term growth prospects, he maintained.

Hendersons operates 70 company-owned stores and services a further 350 independent outlets under the Spar and Vivo brands, and the group plans to invest £33m in expansion and refurbishment this year. Independents will also benefit from a £3m investment in local marketing, with an additional £6m spent by Spar UK nationally.

Whitten added: "Due to the challenging economic conditions, our key priorities of providing first-class customer service, operational efficiency and managing our cost base will be of vital importance."