The Department of Health is encouraging small stores to adopt its Healthy Start scheme, which goes nationwide on 27 November.

Under the terms of the initiative, vouchers are given out to low income families to allow them to buy healthy foods, such as milk, infant formula, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Any shop that sells at least one of the Healthy Start foods can take part - with no restrictions on the type or size of business.

A spokeswoman for the DoH said it wanted more small retailers to register. "We particularly encourage registration from small and independent businesses, including food co-operatives, grocery shops, market stalls and milk roundsmen.Retailers surveyed as part of a trial in Devon and Cornwall said that Healthy Start had resulted in many customers buying other products at the same time as using their vouchers.

"Even where they did not, participation ensured they didn't lose trade to rivals who had registered to take the vouchers," she added.