It's cashflow that keeps the retailers polled in our survey awake at night. Twenty-seven per cent said it was the most serious challenge they faced.

But suppliers, by and large, appear to have been sympathetic. "Some probably allow more than 28 days now. Most seem to have extended rather than decreased their credit period," says Bob Farrand, of the Guild of Fine Food.

The downside is that a number have gone bust as a result, reducing choice for retailers trying to diversify their supply base 56% plan to increase the number of small brands they stock to reduce strain on the ledger. When David Greenman took over Arch House Deli in Bristol in November 2009, cashflow was his biggest concern. 

"Sales doubled in the first two months we took over, but keeping the cash moving was a monumental challenge when sales fell off a cliff edge in the new year," he says.

Arch House Deli now stocks 50% more products than it used to, a large number from local suppliers with individual terms. Like many others, he's also focusing on foodservice.

"We can't afford to be one-dimensional," he says. Barclays maintains that "only one in six businesses come to us wanting to borrow, and 80% to 90% of these applications are accepted. Small businesses know getting further into debt is not the solution."

But it admits there are pressures beyond their control. Stiffer competition was cited by 16% of retailers as the most pressing concern, while for 9% escalating business rates weighed most heavily. Sixteen per cent cited an inability to market effectively.

But Tom Delaney, owner of the Best of British Delicatessen in Bath, says marketing doesn't have to be paid for. "We're always trying to demonstrate what we can do by having blackboards outside the shop and approaching the local radio and newspapers."

Focus On Speciality & Fine Foods