Wholesalers and independent retailers still do not 'get' the full potential of the chilled sector and are jeopardising their ability to compete against the major multiples, the chief executive of Müller UK has warned.

Addressing delegates at the recent Landmark Wholesale conference in Cape Town, Stewart Gilliland said progress had been made since his warning at last year's event that wholesalers and c-stores would struggle to survive if they did not invest in the chilled market.

Trials between Landmark and Müller UK that implemented basic chiller merchandising had increased weekly sales of chilled products by 80% in some stores, he said.

But the independent retail sector had "only just scratched the surface" and a "big communication and education job" still needed to be done, he added.

The chilled category generates £15.9 billion sales - three times the size of soft drinks and confectionery combined - but "the vast majority of wholesalers and independent retailers just don't get it", Gilliland said.

"They do need to take action now if they are going to stand a chance of competing. Competition is going to get tougher."

He added that the major multiples would be expanding the floorspace dedicated to chilled by 3.2 million sq ft this year alone - the equivalent of 2,160 independent stores.

"There's a key role to be played by wholesalers and cash & carries," Gilliland added. "They need to support independent retailers by developing and expanding the range of chilled products available."