The US convenience store sector is showing healthy growth, despite the economic downturn and the continuing growth of big box operators like Wal-Mart. The latest figures from the National Association of Convenience Stores in December 2001 show a 4% rise in the number of c-stores from the previous year to 124,516. In a marked contrast to the UK market, where growth is coming from symbol groups and convenience multiples, an increasing proportion of US c-stores are run by smaller independent operators. However, NACS senior vice president of industry relations and communications Lindsay Hutter said the figures disguised the fact that smaller players faced increasing competition from larger companies, especially drugstore chains like Walgreens and Rite-aid. They were moving away from shopping centres onto the highways and increasing their convenience and grocery offer, she said. Likewise, the pressure for further consolidation was relentless, as the marketplace rewarded those with superior buying power and the most efficient operations. "Ironically" said Hutter, "consolidation has driven the growth in independent ownership as the bigger players dispose of stores during mergers." {{NEWS }}