The independent sector saw 6.4% growth in like-for-like sales in April, according to the latest figures from SalesOut covering 5,000 independent stores, 3,000 of which are in symbol groups. This figure outstrips the sector's already impressive annual growth figure of 4.8%, and has been achieved despite an accelerating decline in alcohol sales. It is clear that most independents enjoyed a good Easter period in other categories.

SalesOut commercial director Steve Collins says: "This growth in the independent sector is typical in a recession, when consumers turn to the sector for added convenience and to reduce unnecessary purchases and fresh food wastage."

To help independent stores capitalise on this, SalesOut has looked at the top 12 categories in the sector (excluding tobacco) and the top 12 growth categories for the year ending March 2009.

These top dozen categories account for 76% of total independent sales (excluding tobacco) and 11 of them saw positive year-on-year growth in sales - the exception being beer, cider and flavoured alcoholic beverages, which fell by 1.5%, and where continued heavy discounting by the multiples has eroded independents' market share.

While hot beverages, soft drinks, spirits and dairy continue to grow from a high base, it is noticeable how crisps and snacks (up 7.9%) and biscuits (up 10.9%) are also driving sales strongly as people compensate for the recession with an increase in affordable treat occasions.

The top 12 growth categories paint a similar picture of recession-driven changes in consumer shopping habits. For example, there was a significant increase in home baking and meal preparation - cooking ingredients and oils are up 29.3% and pasta and rice up 20.8%. There is also a huge resurgence in non-perishable and staple goods, such as canned goods, sauces and preserves.

Collins comments: "These encouragingly buoyant sales are evidence that the independent sector can perform well, even in a tough recession, particularly if stores take time to understand their local marketplace and consumer needs.

"This renewed growth is a clear indication that the sector is now reaping the benefits of a significant improvement in store standards over recent years."