The number of convenience stores in the UK has grown for the first time in a decade, helped by strong recruitment by symbol groups.

The convenience store sector has been growing faster than the overall grocery market in value terms for several years, but the number of outlets has been in gradual decline as large numbers of unaffiliated independent retailers have dropped out of the market while multiple and co-operative operators have increased their presence.

But new data from the 2012 Grocery Retail Structure shows that the total number of outlets defined as convenience stores increased by 0.6% in the year to March 31, up from 41,031 to 41,291.

Unaffiliated Indies20,14319,237-4.5%

The number of unaffiliated independent retailers has declined once again - down by 4.5% in the past year to 19,237 - but this net drop has been largely offset by the continuing growth in symbol group numbers, which have increased by 5.23% to hit a record high of 16,407. Every major symbol group except Spar increased its membership in the past year, with Best-one overtaking Spar to be number two in the market by store numbers with 2,511 outlets, second only to Booker’s Premier with 2,700.

Multiple-operated convenience stores maintained the growth of recent years, up by 7.82% to 3,046. Tesco achieved a net opening rate of almost three new c-stores per week, with Sainsbury opening more than one new store a week as well. The co-op sector, fuelled by acquisitions, also grew last year, up by 5.26% to 2,601.

The number of forecourt retail sites fell from 8,763 to 8, 586 and there was also continued decline in the number of specialist CTN and off licence outlets.

The Grocery Retail Structure is a joint exercise between grocery think tank IGD and William Reed Business Media. A full breakdown is available to subscribers to C-Store’s sister magazine The Grocer at