Waitrose's decision to open 300 small stores across the country has been welcomed by many in the convenience store industry, who feel it shows great faith in the sector's strength.

Just under two-thirds of the new stores will be 2,000-4,000sq ft, while the remainder will be larger at 5,000-7,000sq ft.

Waitrose believes there are massive opportunities for growth in the c-store sector.

"Convenience is forecast to be the growth engine of the grocery industry, and by 2012 it is forecast to constitute 25% of all store-based food sales," a spokeswoman told Convenience Store.

"Customers are shopping more frequently, rather than doing a full weekly grocery shop, and the food-to-go market is booming," she added.

"There are 6.5 million potential customers who are unable to easily access a Waitrose and this will offer us the opportunity to reach them," she added.

Jamie Trust, senior business analyst at grocery think tank IGD, agreed that now was the time to invest in convenience. "Waitrose is investing in a sector which is growing at a faster pace than the UK food and grocery market as a whole and which will continue to do so for the foreseeable future," he said.

"The chain has a heritage of operating in smaller supermarket formats so this is a natural progression in format development. It also builds on the success of more convenience-focused stores acquired from Woolworths and the Co-operative Group that it already operates."

Locations have yet to be confirmed, but a number of sites are understood to have been earmarked. Waitrose has also reached agreement with Boots to sell a range of branded food at hundreds of its stores.