The national media is painting an inaccurate and unnecessarily negative picture of small retailers, according to Spar UK MD Jerry Marwood.

Speaking at the ACS Summit 07 in Birmingham this week, Marwood said journalists too often portrayed convenience retailers as people desperate to hang on to their business in the face of the relentless march of the multiples.

"There is a real issue regarding market dominance by supermarkets," said Marwood. "But many of the people shaping the debate are suffering from a massive perception problem when it comes to independent retailers. You only have to look at the recent Sunday Times Rich List to see how many independents are making real successes of their businesses."

About 10% of the 1,000 people on the list were from a retail or wholesale background and half of these were in the independent sector, he pointed out. Many independents were prepared to invest and change their businesses to gain a competitive advantage.

Food to go represented a major growth opportunity, he added. Figures from Spar UK showed that five years ago food to go was not even in the top 10 most profitable categories for Spar stores, but was now the fourth most profitable fixture.

ACS chief executive James Lowman also expressed confidence in the health of the independent convenience sector despite figures from IGD that showed the number of pure independents fell 5.3% in the past year to 24,526 (see p10).

"This is not good news," said Lowman. "However there has been strong growth in symbol stores of 5.6% with sales up 8%."

Lowman also expressed fears the Competition Commission was struggling to get the information it needed for its inquiry. "It is running out of time to go into the depth of detail it needs to."

Rich List p114