The number of traditional independent food operators in the UK is in steep decline, according to credit reference agency ICC Credit.

The number of butchers, grocers, fishmongers and off-licences starting up grew steadily from 1996, with 326 incorporations, to a total of 1,575 companies in 2003. However, by 2004, this number had dropped by 64% to 959. Helen Kings, marketing manager at ICC Credit, said: "We have already reported on a number of administrations in the off-licence sector including Unwins going into administration and its subsequent buyout by Threshers.

"Smaller independent traditional food retailers are struggling, with 4% of off-licences and 3.5% of butchers in liquidation or administration in the UK."