But at the end of October when T&S became the prey and was taken over by Tesco, just a day after the Co-operative Group bagged Alldays, all the rules changed.
In addition to all the traditional c-store acquirers such as the Spar principals, every major multiple except Asda and Morrisons is now desperate to expand into the convenience store sector.
For players of that size, expanding by acquiring stores in ones and twos is just a sideshow. They want big numbers and that means taking over a chain.
Still seeking acquisitions
Tesco and the Co-operative Group have stolen a march on the opposition, and with companies like Sainsbury anxious to expand its successful Local format, and even Somerfield focusing on the convenience sector, the competition can only get hotter
Despite acquiring more than 750 stores in the last eight months, Co-operative Group chief operating officer Malcolm Hepworth says the society is still on the acquisition trail. "Ideally the next large acquisition would be in a year's time, but when an opportunity arises you have to take it."
He says the society is well placed when opportunities arise because it can react quickly and decisively and has a track record in takeovers.
Another observer notes wryly: "Of course, it helps if you own a bank."
As the chains are being taken over, this upheaval is releasing a wave of senior executives keen to get back into the c-store sector, looking, perhaps with venture capital, to build a chain that could be sold on.
Former T&S chief executive Jim McCarthy is nearing the end of the eight-month non-compete covenant which stopped him operating in the same sector as T&S. At 48 he may still relish building another chain.
Former Alldays boss Stuart Lawson is an accountant with a shorter pedigree in the c-store sector, but his achievements at Alldays against almost insuperable odds marked him out as one to watch too.
In addition, there is Paul Griffiths, who headed the build-up of United Co-op's c-store group until he resigned in February.
At the time he said: "There are changes going on in the food industry which will create some interesting opportunities, and I want to make sure I am available to take advantage of this."
Mike Taylor, until last week Balfour chief executive, was in charge of the development of One Stop Community Stores until it was acquired by T&S in May 1999.
His response after that takeover was to search out his next target.
Then, with a nucleus of former executives from One Stop and with backing from 3i, he took over Balfour and started replicating the formula which had been so successful at One Stop.
Taylor says: "I think we did very well taking on a loss-making CTN chain in March 2000 and turning it into a profitable c-store group." He adds that when last week's takeover deal was being negotiated there was never any question of him staying with the company.
With another non-compete covenant binding him, Taylor says he has no immediate plans, but will be looking to return to the industry.
After the Balfour deal, Malcolm Hepworth has been warning his competitors that the supply of c-store chains is fast running out. But with a number of former c-store executives looking to build the next chain, it seems there may be more takeover opportunities in the years to come.