Sales:£1.6bn (+24%) 

Pre-tax profits:£25.6m (+84%)

Stores:388 (2%)

Forecourt operators are the new force in independent grocery retailing, and nothing signifies this more than MRH’s elevation to the number one spot for the first time.

MRH has been steadily climbing up our rankings for several years and, with Wilko’s sales dropping 4%, an impressive 24% sales hike in the year to 29 September 2013 was more than enough to leapfrog the high street discounter.

MRH’s numbers are strong across the board, reflecting the impressive growth being experienced by many of the independent forecourt operators on our rankings. As well as double-digit percentage increases in both sales and profits, MRH posted the third-largest profits of the Top 50 - beaten only by TJ Morris and Wilko - and the second-largest store estate behind Poundstretcher, with a network of 388 sites. Its £309m sales increase is also the biggest in the Top 50 by value. 

Originally trading as Malthurst, MRH was founded by chief executive Graham Peacock and finance director Susan Tobell in 1997. It has since grown steadily through acquisitions - in 2004 it acquired Kuwait Petroleum GB - and it has also taken on several parcels of sites from oil giants such as Texaco, BP and Esso since then. It now has 388 sites operating under the Esso, BP, Texaco and Jet brands. 

But it is also working on its own brand. It started rolling out the Hursts brand for its stores in March 2013 and now has more than 100 stores operating under the name. It expects to add a further 30 by the end of the year.

Just like forecourt rivals such as Euro Garages, MRH is also linking up with other well-known food brands to drive footfall. In July last year it joined forces with Subway and is aiming to have the sandwich brand in 30 of its sites by the end of 2015. It is currently in 11 sites.

In March 2008, the Essex-based national operator brought in private equity firm Equistone Partners Europe - which also owns health food specialist Whitworths - as a partner, selling a 38% stake in the business. It’s one of only five companies in the Top 50 with external investors. But it was clearly the shot in the arm MRH needed to maintain its growth. The directors have pledged to make further acquisitions and believe MRH will continue to generate significant levels of cash, which they plan to continue to reinvest in the business. With both petrol and diesel prices falling sharply in recent months, it also expects trading conditions to improve too.

Forward to: 2. Wilco