Appleby Westward marketing director John Hart hit out at critics of Spar's new £2m TV advertising campaign at the company's annual trade show at Westpoint, Exeter. Referring to recent letters in The Grocer and a follow-up letter from Londis to Spar retailers, Hart said it was vital the Spar brand was continually kept in the forefront of people's minds. "Customers don't have to go to Spar to shop," he said. "It is therefore crucial that we continue to strive to make the Spar name the customer's first choice every time. Other names in the convenience sector do not have the structured marketing programme or international programmes that we do. "They do not seem to understand the importance of building a brand and making that name first choice. Long may it continue. "Global firms like Coca-Cola and Mars understand the power of their brands and do not hold back from telling the world about their product. We will therefore continue to support the Spar name with national tv ads, local radio, consumer promotions and sponsorship of European Athletics." Hart acknowledged that it had been a difficult year for independent retailers, with research showing a drop in retail sales from last summer to the year end and retailers having to face increased costs, energy tax, staff shortages, a rise in minimum wage levels and the introduction of stakeholder pensions. However, retail sales since January had been encouraging and Spar would continue to build on recent successes. There would be no U-turn in its marketing activity which was the most dynamic in the symbol group sector, he said. Chief operating officer Ian Connell told the 500-strong trade show audience: "We are proud of what we have achieved over the last 12 months. We may be the smallest wholesale company in Spar, but our growth is double that of any other, and we have recruited more stores than all of the other wholesalers put together." {{NEWS }}