A claim by Tesco that the number of convenience retailers is on the up has angered the small store sector, where store numbers have slumped 1.1% year-on-year, according to IGD - including a 3.6% drop among non-affiliated independents.

Speaking this week during the supermarket's first-half results presentation, where it reported pre-tax profits up 10.3% to £1.09bn, chief executive Sir Terry Leahy said Tesco was not responsible for killing off small, independent stores.

"The reports have been much too gloomy about the prospects for the high street. In convenience retailing, their numbers are increasing. When a Tesco store comes, stores actually do better not worse."

But Adrian Costain, MD of independent player Pareto Retail, said Sir Terry's comments did not reflect what he and other independent traders were experiencing.

An Express opened a mile from one of Costain's stores this year. Costain said the store's sales were down 5% on conservative estimates, despite the group's sales edging up 1-2% in the quarter. "We must not talk down our prospects, but certain people in the sector are overstretching its real growth."

James Lowman, public affairs director at the Association of Convenience Stores, said Sir Terry's store numbers were wrong, although he conceded that despite a fall in retailers, sales in the sector had grown 4%. "One of the things he is trying to do is deflect criticism of Tesco's dominance in the market," he said. "We're confident that the people making decisions on the market's future understand what is happening and will remember that rather than a slip of the tongue."

A spokesman for Tesco could not confirm what figures Sir Terry's comments were based on, but said it probably came down to definition. "The c-store sector is becoming more popular, which is why we moved in."

IGD's Convenience Retailing report in May revealed that overall store numbers fell 1.1% to 51,526.The big winners in this sector were symbol groups and stores owned by multiples, were big winners, with store numbers up 5.1% and 2%, respectively. Stores run by non-affiliated independents fell 3.6%.Tesco's first-half results

Group sales up 12.7% to £22.7bn

Group pre-tax profit up 10.3% to £1.09bn

Underlying profit up 12.5% to £1.15bn

UK sales up 10.2% to £17.4bn

UK like-for-like sales up 5.5%

UK trading profit up 10.5% to £904m

Deflation in UK stores of 0.4%