West Country-based greengrocery empire Stokes has admitted it is to close a number of branches in an effort to shore up profits.

In a tersely worded press statement, the company said it was nearing the end of a restructuring process that would be complete by early September.
"This has been brought about by the change in traditional high street conditions and the increase of out-of-town supermarkets, which has resulted in selected sites becoming no longer viable," said MD Louise Stokes-Johnson. "We will focus on a refurbishment programme and continue to invest in our stores with a view to increasing our portfolio in new locations where the traditional high street still exists."

The news comes despite IGD findings that the high street is still a world of opportunity for specialist shops such as Stokes, with £30bn spent on food and groceries there last year. And the number of shoppers claiming to visit a greengrocer was up 80% in the past two years.

"A number of favourable consumer trends are looking positive for this group of retailers," said analyst Julie Starck.

A telephone survey by The Grocer found that some profitable stores were also being closed, such as the branch in Christchurch, which will open its doors for the last time on 1 September.

The manager said: "We were given only two or three weeks to prepare. We were aware that the company was not trading particularly well, because times are hard in the high street. We have always been profitable, even though M&S has opened a Simply Food nearby. But Stokes' headquarters is in Bristol and with diesel at £1/litre, it doesn't make good sense to truck produce down here. They are focusing on the M5 corridor."

A spokeswoman for the chain said it was not possible to say how many of the 60 stores were on the chopping block because some could be bought out by managers or local investors.