Independent dealer groups are set to drive future growth in the forecourt convenience sector, according to the IGD’s Convenience Retailing 2006 report.

Although the total number of forecourt c-stores fell by 3.6% during 2005, the report found that the number of dealer-owned stores increased by 4.2% (210 stores) as the major oil companies continued to divest sites. At the same time average sales per store increased among the remaining 8,964 stores.

The report’s author Stewart Samuel, IGD’s senior business analyst, said: "In the future, as well as the significant opportunities in fresh foods, non-food services should also continue to grow, and the forecourt sector will become stronger as ’dealer-owned, dealer-operated’ groups focus on an improved retail offer."

While the number of petrol stations in the UK has now dropped below 10,000, an increased proportion of the remaining sites (91%) are now classed as true c-stores. This, the report suggests, means that those sites with a good c-store are more likely to remain in the forecourt sector than those without, and as numbers continue to contract, the viability of the remaining sites will strengthen. The report also found that oil company managed sites have increased their average store size by almost 32% since 1999 in an effort to accommodate a greater range of food services, particularly fresh foods. The report said the total convenience sector was worth £24.9bn, an increase of 4% over last year, and conditions for growth were good.