Mills Group has scooped the title of Independent Retailer of the Year for its original approach

Following a two-year reign by Spar retailer Tates, c-store and CTN chain Mills Group has made it to the top spot.

Mills Group, which operates stores in the north of England, the Midlands and South Wales, was praised for its ambitious strategy, effective use of consumer insight and its passion and commitment.

"Mills Group has shown an innovative approach to retailing in the face of severe competition," said one judge. "A clear winner," added another. "Original, energetic and professional."

With product sales increasing 4.7% to £58.3m and service sales, including lottery, cash machines and PayPoint, increasing 11.4% to £41.7m, 2007 was a strong year for the retailer. It has spent more than £3m on store refits, revamping 50 of its 75 stores so far with more scheduled for this year.

It has also used the refits, which have ranged from minor refurbishments to full-blown makeovers, as an opportunity to improve its environmental impact by fitting eco-friendly refrigeration in stores and movement sensors in back offices so lights turn off automatically when rooms are unoccupied.

Another highly praised initiative is its Think 30 campaign, which tackles the sale of age-restricted products. The scheme protects staff from abuse and also removes any doubt that a person is under-age, according to the retailer.

Mills has also been increasing its fruit and vegetables range and predicts the shift towards healthier foods will increase total sales by 6% this year. And it has unveiled plans to move into magazine distribution for the first time. It intends to secure a deal to act as internet distributor for a publisher's magazines and DVDs.