Wholesalers and independent retailers have an opportunity to take advantage of growing public dissatisfaction with the multiples - in particular Tesco - according to Today's Group MD Rodney Hunt.

The UK's number- one retailer was a victim of "tall poppy syndrome" because its success had begun to make it unpopular with the media, which would consequently impact on consumers, said Hunt.

"Independent retailers and wholesalers are in a perfect position to take advantage of this shift in attitude. But they need to be courageous in terms of investment and innovation."

Hunt acknowledged that Tesco often set the standards when it came to store development, but said independents supported by a committed wholesaler could compete effectively in terms of store design, layout and range.

But he warned that trying to compete solely on price was not wise, adding: "I have always believed this was a road to nowhere."

Hunt, who was speaking this week at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors conference, told delegates he now had more reasons for optimism in the future of wholesaling.

FWD chairman Francis Ball agreed, claiming that more wholesalers had recorded like-for-like sales ahead of inflation in the past year than in the previous 12 months.

He had also witnessed improved relationships between wholesalers and suppliers which, he said was demonstrated by the record number of suppliers attending the conference.

However, more co-operation was needed between wholesalers and retailers on fresh food, warned Bestway business integration controller David Gilroy.

Fresh produce was an opportunity for independents, he said, but many retailers steered clear of it because they were afraid of wastage. Wholesalers needed to remove this element of fear by taking ownership of the category on behalf of their customers, he added.

They could also help retailers make it work by encouraging them to be flexible and monitor their ranges constantly.

Nielsen marketing manager David Glennon said that sales of fresh produce through independents had grown 40% in the past year.