They’re this year’s stars of the convenience retailing world. Along with our sister title Convenience Store, The Grocer celebrated the sharpest c-store operators at this year’s Convenience Retail Awards in London. Ronan Hegarty reports

While the nation's high streets are under a cloud, there were reasons to be cheerful last week as The Grocer celebrated the very best in convenience retailing.

In conjunction with our sister publication Convenience Store, the Convenience Retail Awards brought together leading independent and wholesale figures at a ceremony in London's Grand Connaught Rooms, hosted by TV personality Paul Ross, to recognise achievement in an increasingly embattled market sector.

The main awards were broken down into Best Independent Store, Best Multiple Store, Best Small Store and Best Large Store, with the winners of each format category going on to battle it out for the accolade of Convenience Retailer of the Year.

The gong for Best Large Store went to Warner's Budgens, Bidford on Avon, owned by serial award winner Guy Warner. Premier Singh's in Herries Road, Sheffield, scooped the prize for the Best Small Store while G&E Murgatroyd's Spar in Pike Hill, Burnley was crowned Best Multiple Store.

However, the ultimate prize of the night went to the winner of the Best Independent Store category The Village Store Spar in Walthamstow, London.

The store's owners James Brundle and Siobhan O'Donnell, were finalists last year and that brush with success inspired the pair to strive for further improvements.

In the past year they have installed an aptly named Eat17 pizzeria, employing an Italian chef who makes takeaway pizza to order in front of customers. They also worked on improving the fresh and chilled offer and the in-store bakery, as well as introduce new ranges such as ­speciality beers and luxury cosmetics.

"It's always fantastic to see success resulting from innovation, hard work and superb execution," says Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer. "These awards are important not only to celebrate success but to provide ideas and inspiration for other retailers to raise their game."

As well as recognition for individual retailers, there was a Lifetime Achievement Award for Costcutter chairman Colin Graves on the 25th anniversary of his founding of the York-based business. Costcutter's buying group Nisa-Today's picked up Initiative of the Year for its 'Making a Difference Locally' charity scheme.

Finally, in the battle of the suppliers, Britvic Soft Drinks' Mountain Dew energy drink beat off Crabbie's alcoholic ginger beer, Galaxy Bubbles, Kellogg's Krave and Walkers Extra Crunchy to win Product of the Year.

The winners at a glance
Sponsors' Awards

Best Chilled Food Retailer (Müller): Trevor Higgs, Essentials, University of Kent, Canterbury
Best Customer Service (Today's Group): Paul Fisher, Nisa Fishers, Gerrards Cross, London
Category management award (P&G): Ramesh & Nirmala Shingadia, Londis Southwater
Excellence in impulse award (Britvic): Darren MacDonald, Red Tiles
Service Station (Mace): Witton Gilbert
Independent news trader of the year (News International): Jon Ellis, Town Common News, Christchurch
Responsible retailing award (Imperial Tobacco): Stephen Bassett, Londis Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth
Zero Tolerance award for crime prevention (Loomis): James Ratcliffe, Spar Pike Hill, Burnley (G&E Murgatroyd)

Special Awards

Product of the Year: Mountain Dew energy drink, Britvic Wholesale
Business Initiative: Making a Difference Locally, Nisa-Today's
Lifetime Achievement Award: Colin Graves, chairman, Costcutter

Best small store: Premier Singh's, Sheffield

Owner Mandeep Singh proved with this store exactly what can be achieved with a footprint of just 950 sq ft. The store has thrived despite being squeezed between a Tesco Metro and Express. Staff also take a firm stand against underage sales.

Best independent store: The Village Store/Spar, Walthamstow
This store was set apart by its new Eat17 pizzeria complete with Italian chef. Owners James Brundle and Siobhan O'Donnell have also invested heavily in an artisan in-store bakery and improved fresh and chilled offer. The Village Store was also voted overall Convenience Retailer of the Year 2011.

Best large store: Warner's Budgens, Bidford on Avon
Guy Warner was crowned Convenience Retailer of the Year for the last two years for his stores in Broadway and Moreton-in-Marsh. A £750,000 refurb in its Bidford store transformed the site with a new chilled food aisle, hot food counter and wine zone. Turnover increased 12% with 500 new customers added last year.

Best multiple store: Spar, Pike Hill, Burnley
The G&E Murgatroyd store has fought off competition from a Tesco Express that opened 300 yards away to record a 12% sales uplift in the last year. This was achieved through a keener promotional strategy and increased community involvement as well as a greater focus on food to go and chilled wine and beer.