It's not often you get invited to a secret rendezvous at a Heathrow hotel with two of the biggest names in the industry. So when I got a call to meet The Co-operative Group's Guy McCracken and Spar's Jerry Marwood at a Holiday Inn near the airport I knew that something interesting was on the cards.

How right I was. Yesterday the two convenience powerhouses announced they were coming together in a buying alliance (p6). That's right, two major high street competitors have put aside their rivalry and found a way of working together to the benefit of their businesses, retailers and - ultimately one hopes - the consumer, while maintaining their independence.

Of course, in Spar's case, its retailers will decide whether to pass the savings on to the customer but, assuming they do, this initiative should put the two already successful companies in an even stronger position to fight off the challenge of Tesco Express, Sainsbury's Local et al.

The move is significant. Coming hot on the heels of the proposed Nisa-Today's/Costcutter merger, it shows that key independents are not just sitting back and hoping the Competition Commission rules in their favour. They know they are in a prime position to take advantage of the high street's revival, yet have seen business slip through their fingers into the hands of the big boys. A better retail offer is obviously one requirement, but more efficient buying is also vital if such companies are to remain competitive.

This initiative is a bold and exciting development. Better buying terms help address the price gap that exists between Spar/The Co-operative Group and the supermarkets, yet leaves both companies free to pursue their individual brand and retail propositions. Could we see more such alliances in the future?