Independent retailers are not an endangered species that need desperate need of protection, delegates at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors' annual conference heard yesterday. But chairman Rodney Hunt said they did need defending from market conditions that were aligned in favour of the bigger operators.

The FWD has been at the forefront of efforts to persuade the OFT and government to take a closer look at the power of the big supermarkets and the impact it has on competition.

But Hunt said: "Any protection that the Federation seeks is not protection from fair competition but from abuse of power."

Hunt, who runs the Today's wholesale buying group, said that despite the issues they faced, many independents were thriving and investing in their businesses at unprecedented levels. The same was true of the strong wholesalers who were, he said, "the backbone, indeed the lifeblood, of 500,000 independent retailers and caterers".