Hancocks Cash & Carry is defying the credit crunch, reporting a 6% growth in sales of its Christmas lines compared with last year.

The confectionery specialist said cash-strapped shoppers were hunting around for Christmas presents earlier so they could spread the cost and were actively seeking out good deals.

Jonathan Summerley, Hancocks' senior buyer, said more people were looking for own-label and lesser-known brands that were perceived to represent value. Some of the products showing the best sales growth so far this year included Liquorice Allsorts, Turkish Delight and Rumballs.

"It will surprise a lot of people, but Christmas sales are doing very well," said Summerley.

"The supermarkets make it tough, but we are helping independents compete with our Dare To Be Different campaign."

Independent stores could maximise profits through being creative with their displays and stocking products such as chocolate Advent calendars, decorations and stocking fillers, he added.

Summerley's five buyers scour factories across the country to find exclusive ranges that help independents have a point of difference from the multiples. Many of the lesser-known brands they source offer better margins to retailers.

But he said sales of big confectionery brands were also increasing, and stressed the importance of retailers stocking the right mix of leading brands and lesser-known lines.