Forecourt retailers with non-affiliated stores such as Forecourt Trader of the Year winners Peter and Pat Bellini, will be among those leading the convenience retailing market for the next few years, according to new research from the food and grocery think-tank, IGD.

In its new report, ‘Consolidation in Convenience Retailing: Examining the Implications’, the IGD states that while the number of non-affiliated independents (operators with fewer than 10 stores under common ownership, all of them independently branded) is in long-term decline, those that remain represent a hardcore of the most able and dedicated, and are expected to continue to remain the most common providers of convenience retailing for some time to come, making up 48% of stores and 30% of sales in five years time. Currently the figure stands at 60% of stores and 33% of sales controlled by non-affiliated independents.

“Despite a net decline, the independent segment remains vibrant; independent entrepreneurs are the key providers of convenience shopping in the UK,” says the report. Though the number of forecourt c-stores showed a sharp decrease between 2003 and 2004 – down 5.1% to 9,401 – this decrease is slightly less than the overall contraction of forecourt numbers in the UK, which was 7.8%. The IGD believes this may indicate that the presence of a full shop offer provides protection for a struggling forecourt site.

Many small retail businesses across the UK convenience sector have also chosen to enter symbol operation, affiliating to a group such as Spar or Londis to gain advantages and benefit from additional support and expertise. The IGD believes symbol groups will continue to recruit from the independent sector and will lead the market with 27% of stores and 34% of sales by 2010. The report also comments on the continuing improving quality of service station shop operation, with 89% of forecourt stores now qualifying as ‘true’ c-stores, up from 87% in the previous year, and 84% the year before that.

The number of convenience stores on company-owned forecourts fell sharply, down 14.1%, while dealer operated stores grew by 5.7%. “This reflects the way in which fuel dealerships are ‘catching up’ with oil companies in terms of the quality of store operation, with more now qualifying as c-stores, whereas fuel companies – arguably further advanced in terms of store development – are being forced to further rationalise their store portfolios.”

The closure of forecourt sites has not impacted on the numbers of joint venture sites between forecourt operators and grocers, with joint venture sites up 13.4% over the year to 1,026. Meanwhile all the major symbol groups have identified forecourt dealers as potential recruits.

IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch says despite the casualties in the independent sector, those left were upping their game plan. “We’re confident they will make up the bulk of stores for some time to come. The development of new types of convenience stores across the UK will drive market growth, and we believe will actually generate extra demand for convenience, rather than merely fulfilling demand that is already present.”