When you are in discussion with a 'fledgling' (his word) fmcg sales director, and he asks what he needs to know about independents, the conversation becomes interesting.

My first suggestion was that he should read Convenience Store more closely. Its annual product survey will be more informative than many long-winded presentations from some information sources I could name.

The latest reader survey asked which supplier rep has been the most helpful. Cadbury came out top and I would applaud that, having seen their people out and about in many stores.

So what's its secret? I guess that it spent a lot of time and money, and deployed commitment and expertise gained over decades, into turning out good people.

If I was a big brand sales director with a field force, the Cadbury model would be mine, too. But it doesn't just stop with reps, does it? The chap who delivers big brands to your store is an ambassador as well as a delivery driver, but does he behave like one? Is he trained to sell his company and its services as well as their brands?

Wholesaler reps were not included in the survey, but I believe that they should have been. They are more important than ever. So are the staff of cash and carry depots who are in the job of meeting retailers day after day and, one presumes, helping them with their inquiries.

In the survey, 65% of respondents said they would not change the space they allocate to product categories in the coming year. My companion asked if this apparent lack of appetite for change was reflected in the wholesaler community, and what could C-Store do about this apparent lethargy among its readers. It's more important, I responded, what you as a brand owner will do.