Despite a decline in the number of forecourt stores in the past year, average sales per store increased by 3%, according to the IGD’s Convenience Retailing 2011 report. Senior business analyst, David Shukri, told Forecourt Trader: "The 3% increase suggests that those forecourts that remain in the market have continued to show resilience and compete fiercely in a backdrop of economic uncertainty."

Star performers in forecourts were chilled foods, soft drinks and tobacco. "The chilled foods category presents a strong growth opportunity for forecourt operators, while many are already improving their fresh food ranges and demonstrating innovation with their food-to-go offer," said Shukri. "For example, James Graven’s Littleport forecourt store source fruit and vegetables from local suppliers and Shell’s Deli to Go concept seeks to change perceptions about food-to-go on the forecourt."

He added that the IGD’s ShopperTrack monthly research tool revealed that 50% of shoppers plan to use shops nearer to them if petrol prices continue to rise, which he said presented a further opportunity for forecourts to capitalise on.

The IGD Report highlighted another strong year for convenience stores with annual sales up 4.9% to reach £32.4bn, which is more than 20% of the £151.8bn total grocery market. Analysts at the company expect the convenience sector to grow to £42.3bn within the next five years.

There are currently 48,168 convenience stores operating in the UK. Symbol groups, with 16,288 stores, was the fastest growing segment with sales up 9.2%. The report said there are 20,143 unaffiliated independent c-stores in the UK, a reduction of 3.4% on the previous year, which was the smallest drop for five years.