The UK convenience market continues to perform well and was worth £19.2bn or 20% of all grocery sales last year. But, says a new report from IGD, while the sector is booming, it remains highly fragmented and has "considerable potential for improvement" in the areas of staff friendliness and speed of service, product availability, store standards and in the choice and quality of fresh foods. IGD adds: "The structure of the industry is not conducive to supply chain efficiency and improving this is crucial to delivering customer convenience." The increase in unaffiliated independent stores over 1998 was largely to do with a reclassification of the sector. And IGD warns: "In the long term, the decline of independent retailers is likely to continue while supermarket c-stores and specialist chains will be well positioned to exploit increased demand." Its says the multiple c-store chains, forecourt operators and symbol groups will all experience slower growth in coming years as the supermarket c-store operations enjoy "rapid" growth. In the review year, c-store multiples saw sales grow by 5.6%, the symbol groups by 4% and the Co-ops by 4.9%. IGD says growth among the c-store multiples was slower than previous years because less new space was opened. And despite their heavy investment in neighbourhood retailing, Co-op store numbers remained largely unchanged. Non food was one of the sector's most successful categories last year in terms of growth in sales contribution ­ and now accounts for 6% of all c-store sales. IGD says this "impressive" performance has much to do with the introduction of mobile phone cards. One prediction that should please retailers is IGD's claim that as the convenience sector grows they will become more important customers for suppliers. "Suppliers may review the financial and management resources dedicated to the sector particularly since the supermarket sector may no longer offer such attractive growth prospects," it says. {{NEWS }}