One in five independent retailers are unable to purchase something they set out to buy when they visit a cash & carry losing the depot £119.33 every time.

The startling figure was revealed in Him!'s cash & carry retailer tracking programme, which interviewed 1,670 retailers at ­depots up and down the country. Almost 20% (314) claimed they were unable to buy something they had intended to.

The category with the worst availability was soft drinks, followed by confectionery and tinned and packaged grocery.

On average, each customer who failed to buy the products they needed spent £119.33 less at the depot than they intended to.

The poor availability contrasts sharply with supermarkets. A separate Him! survey of supermarket shoppers found just 10% were unable to buy something they had wanted half that of the cash & carry figure.

The situation had improved, but there was still a discrepancy between 'actual' and 'perceived' availability, said Darren Goldney, wholesale trading director for Coca-Cola Enterprises.

"Wholesalers need to stock ranges suitable for varying outlet types," he said. "With duplicative options in many product segments, a wholesaler can stock five times the range that any individual outlet needs. Time-poor customers could assume the product they want is not available, when in reality it's just lost in the clutter."

But one wholesaler said the problem was heavy peaks in demand. "The demand in wholesale is much harder to manage than the retail environment," he said.

Suppliers could help by producing smaller cases for the wholesale channel, he added. "You might only be carrying two cases of a product with a low rate of sale, but if demand suddenly does increase, you can sell out very quickly," he added. "Having the same number of items but divided between a higher number of smaller units would really help."