Helena Hudson set up the The Real Eating Company in Hove after moving to Brighton from London and deciding there was a gap in the market for a high-quality food retailer.

Three years on and the influx of organic and specialist food retailers appears to have supported Hudson's notion. But consumers never forget a trailblazer, and her store was last year voted one of the UK's best food retailers by readers of The Observer.

The Real Eating Company, which includes a restaurant, is a haven for all things local. The majority of its products are British. Its cheeses come from Covent Garden-based Neal's Yard Dairy and products are sourced as locally as ­possible.

The company has recently expanded. A second store opened in the nearby town of Lewes in November and a coffee shop in Horsham opened its doors six months ago.

The Lewes store has been the company's biggest challenge - the town already has two other specialist cheese shops and a large Tesco and Waitrose. But Hudson insists: "There is clearly enough business to go round."

Nothing demonstrates this more than the booming sales of Spanish pata negra ham. It sells for £12.50 for 100g.

caroline walker As Nature Intended Location: London Established: 2000 Number of stores: 3

With the success of As Nature Intended, Caroline Walker has finally stepped out of the shadow of her father, Iceland boss Malcolm Walker.

As MD of the organic retailer, Walker is in charge of three high street stores in London's Balham, Ealing Broadway and Chiswick, selling an extensive range of fresh produce, meat, chilled goods, beer and wine.

There is none of the dim lighting and limited choice of the early organic days - the stores are modern, brightly lit and stock more than 5,000 products. "We are an organic store but are more of a supermarket," says Walker. "We work on the same principles as supermarkets, with wide aisles you can easily push a trolley around and modern shelving to display the products. You can do your weekly shop or top-up shop at our stores."

This is where the comparison between As Nature Intended and the big retailers stops, however. Some 95% of its stock is organic, although it does list certain lines that can't be certified as organic, and also some that are simply wheat- or gluten-free. The company prides itself on its customer service. As well as offering coffee freshly ground in-store and rice in bespoke portion sizes, the company can also cater for special requests.

Will new branches open soon? Walker won't commit: "In an ideal world we would open one or two stores a year, but I wouldn't do it if they weren't in the right location."

stefan smith Oro - The Market Place Location: Hockley Heath, Birmingham Established: 2006 Number of stores: 1

Oro, in the village of Hockley Heath near Solihull, is not your typical Birmingham food store.

The brainchild of Stefan Smith, a former chef and restaurateur who wanted to combine his love for cooking with selling the highest quality food, it's a vast store combining the expertise of a specialist butcher, baker and patisserie, greengrocer, cheesemonger and fishmonger with a restaurant, bar and coffee shop.

It also features a wine merchant stocking more than 300 different wines and even has a hairdresser to fully reflect the community spirit of the village.

"The idea was based on a feeling," says Smith. "We are trying to integrate a way of living into how you do your grocery shopping. We want people to come in and shop, have a coffee and pick up something sweet to eat. The store is more than a supermarket, it is a social place."

Some 50-60% of products are sourced from within a 70-100 mile radius of the store. All produce is hand-selected, organic where possible, and displays stickers, which show exactly where it has come from.

Oro opened last April, and has already clocked up sales of £2m, helped by the café and restaurant trade. Its growth is showing no signs of abating.

Jana satchi Farmers' City Market Location: London Established: 2006 Number of stores: 1

Farmers' City Market is possibly the first genuine attempt to bridge the gap between the popular farmers' markets held in car parks across the country and local specialist food retailers.

Founded by three businessmen, one of which is Stephen Wilkinson, who worked as a food and drink buyer for M&S for several years, the shop began trading on Hampton Hill High Street in November. It has been designed to address the issues that consumers have with standard farmers' markets: that you are exposed to the elements, can't pay by credit card, product ranges are inconsistent and bulk-­purchasing is difficult.

There are individual areas for fruit and veg, meat and fish, cheese and dairy, delicatessen products and alcohol. A total of 2,500 lines are stocked, all sourced and directly supplied by ethical and responsible farmers, producers or growers, helping them to retain their margins.

The venture has not been without its complications. The store was forced to have a soft launch because it couldn't secure supply for certain items and is currently running with only 90% of its product range. But director Jana Satchi says it will be trading fully by the end of the month.

"We want everything local or seasonal but it is not completely possible in today's market," he says. "We don't mind running out of things if they are seasonal."

A second store could open as early as August.