Landmark Wholesale has defied the economic downturn with sales up 7% in the year to the end of August. Despite consumers tightening their belts, the buying group had outperformed in most categories, managing director Martin Williams told The Grocer in an exclusive interview.

Cigarette sales were up 6%, even though the cigarette market overall was in decline, while soft drinks were up 5% despite a poor summer, he said. In alcohol, spirits sales were up 6%, cider sales up 10% and beer sales up 27%. Meanwhile, dried grocery sales were up 12% following a company push on the category. Chilled and frozen had also benefited from a chilled package the buying group introduced for retailers last year, with sales increasing by 50%.

“For the past five years, we have outperformed the sector in nearly all categories,” said Williams. “Chilled and frozen is doing really well, but is still too small a base. This category is a real opportunity.”

Another opportunity was the on-trade, Williams added. The group planned to work on pushing on-trade business for drinks, crisps and confectionery among its 32 members. The group was also “bang on target” to reach 2,500 Lifestyle Express stores by 2010, he said.

Landmark Wholesale members currently operate 1,560 Lifestyle Express stores across the UK and its board of directors was currently working on a new business plan for 2010 onwards, he claimed. “We will move the emphasis from recruiting new stores to developing as a proper symbol group,” said Williams. “We’re planning to hit the 2,500 target and then invest and develop the business.”

The plan is expected to be signed off at the buying group’s annual conference in May next year. Meanwhile, the company plans to launch a reusable bag to coincide with its ‘shop often, shop local, spend less’ campaign, launched last month. The bag bears the strapline ‘bag for lifestyle’ and the first consignment is expected in stores imminently.