The major multiples are set to take an even bigger slice of the grocery cake over the next four years, according to the IGD's annual report on the industry. It says that the nine biggest chains will increase their 60% share of the market by a further 4.1% by 2005. Most of this growth will be achieved by the top four and it will come from eating into the share of smaller retailers outside the leading pack. The good news for independents is that the rate at which the big boys have grown their collective share appears to have slowed. IGD said it rose by just 0.5% in the past two and a half years ­ suggesting the non major multiple sector' is no longer an easy target. One reason for the slowdown in market share growth is stricter planning regulations now in place, says IGD. Nevertheless, retailers are still finding ways to open new space ­ with the major chains increasing their sales area by 3.5% year on year. Much of this growth came through extensions as store numbers increased by just 1% to 4,233. IGD says the average size of store operated by the major chains is now 17,000 sq ft ­ even though 10% of outlets are 40,000 sq ft or more. Extensions also helped the multiples increase the number of superstores they operate by 42 to 1,151 ­ the fastest increase since 1997. IGD predicts there will be 1,300 superstores in the UK by 2005. While organic growth is proving harder to come by, IGD discounts the likelihood of the majors growing through merger or acquisition. It says a deal between Safeway and Morrisons is one of the few that may be approved by the competition authorities. The report also identifies Ahold, Auchan, Carrefour and US group Safeway as the overseas retailers most likely to move into the UK, although IGD and other City analysts believe it will be some time before any deals are done. IGD estimates the UK grocery retail market was worth £99.8bn in 2000 and predicts it will rise by 4% this year to be worth £103.8bn ­ largely because of the re-appearance of food inflation. By 2005 the market could be worth £117bn ­ which is £103.4bn at today's prices. {{NEWS }}