This year’s Top 50 ranking reveals the pressure from the multiples as never before. Some chains are winning through, however. Rod Addy kicks off our report

FARMFOODS: It is still heading The Top 50 but the poor fortunes of the frozen food category have hit this specialistPAGE 31

PROUDFOOT: We take a look at an imaginative revamp of a store in Newby by Proudfoot, number 35 on our listPAGE 32

UNWINS: It came in at number four in last year’s rankings, and then the shelves turned bare. What went wrong?PAGE 34

THE SYMBOL GROUPS: For the first time we name the top fascia, franchise and symbol groups powering independentsPAGE 35

BEST OF THE REST: Iceland, Thresher and TM RetailPAGE 36

ONES TO WATCH: Four up and coming retailersPAGE 40

FAREWELL TO 2005: What happened to 2005’s rising stars?PAGE 42

You might have expected life to quieten down a bit for independent retailers in the aftermath of the frenzied consolidation of the sector in 2004. But this year’s annual survey of the top performers reveals that although fewer companies have sold up, there’s been a lot of jostling for position in the rankings as our top players have got to grips with life in an increasingly competitive market.
The most impressive growth figures have come from chains such as CTN retailer Rippleglen, Scottish Spar chain CJ Lang, Smile Stores, UNS Hospitals and forecourt operator Snax 24.
We have also seen a number of new entrants to the Top 50, notably B&M Retail, Wine Cellar and Berry Bros & Rudd.
While many chains in our ranking are clearly flourishing despite the competition, others have been less lucky - or, perhaps, not as well managed - with Unwins and Fuelforce both leaving the Top 50 after they collapsed into administration in the past year.
We chart the Unwins story in more depth on page 34. But what happened at unlucky Fuelforce, ranked, ironically enough, in 13th place last year? Experts offer many reasons, including the fact that it had failed to develop a strong convenience offer.
Other chains have been snatched from our list after being bought out. Sainsbury acquired Shaws Supermarkets in April and Philip Russell was snapped up in October by fellow off-licence chain Belfast-based Winemark, ranked 33rd this year.
And while the multiples have been less acquisitive in the past year, they are still keeping a close eye on the sector. That was highlighted last week when we revealed that Artgoal Supermarkets, this year’s number 45, had sold four stores to Tesco’s One-Stop convenience chain.
Despite the many successes identified in our Top 50, there’s no denying that many chains found the past year pretty tough. A total of 18 have registered declining, static or near-static sales, double last year’s total. That doesn’t come as a surprise to the Association of Convenience Stores. “The number of independents closing went up dramatically in 2005,” says an ACS spokesman, who adds: “I think two years on, the pressure from the supermarkets breaking into the convenience market is starting to be felt.”
The sentiment is echoed by several Top 50 members. “One of the biggest issues is the increased pressure from the multiples and their in-roads into convenience retailing,” says Justin Smart, general manager of Stan’s Superstore, 41st in our table.
The multiples’ shadow is lengthening in Northern Ireland, with Curley’s Supermarkets, 18th in our Top 50 chart, raising Asda’s market entry in October as a major worry.
Pressure from the big supermarkets on suppliers is driving them to make unreasonable demands of independents, says Brian Long, MD of Longs Supermarkets, number 36 on our list. “As the multiples squeeze them, many suppliers refuse to supply us now with goods unless we take drop quantities that are totally unrealistic.”
The multiples are not the only challenge. Independents have raised additional concerns about soaring business costs, the lack of suitable staff and the proliferation of government red tape.
Still, many thrive on the adversity. Given its performance in last year’s survey, it’s unsurprising that Farmfoods comes first in our 2006 ranking, although it hasn’t had things all its way, as you’ll read on page 31.
Undoubtedly this year’s most impressive performer is Rippleglen, owner of the Arden News chain, based in Solihull.Even though CTNs are seen by many as the unglamorous end of the market, Rippleglen has leapt from number 12 last year to fourth place. The company has beaten the £100m target it set a year ago, posting annual sales of £117m, assisted by the ongoing integration of the Supercigs and SuperNews estates acquired from Tesco in November 2003.
Rippleglen chairman Harry Medcalf says the chain has flourished thanks to its focused strategy of having stores located in the best possible sites. He explains: “With the right site in the right location a CTN shop can do well. Bus and train stations are areas where they are proving very resilient and we’re acquiring shops at those sites.”
Scottish Spar chain CJ Lang is another strong performer this year, streaking into our top 10, from number 15 in 2005, thanks to sales growth of more than 50%.
“Our improved position reflects our store refurbishment and aggressive acquisition programme, which has moved us from 48 stores three years ago to 77,” says chief executive David Walker.
Another c-store chain with plenty to, well, smile about is Smile Stores, headquartered in Bristol, which has enjoyed year-on-year sales growth of 31%, on the back of its acquisition of rival chain Nugent Westward. Smile is now in 16th place, compared with 21st last year.
In direct contrast to Fuelforce, forecourt retailer Snax24 has enjoyed a fantastic year, rising from number 20 in our charts to 14th position thanks to strong sales growth and a rise in store numbers from 60 to 80.
Our roll call of rapid climbers in the Top 50 would be incomplete without mentioning United News Shops, now UNS Hospitals. After selling its high street stores in the past 18 months, the company has jumped from 32nd to 26th, with its remaining hospital stores boosting sales by more than a quarter.
Our ranking also features three significant new entries. Wine Cellar moves from our Best of the Rest listing after the company clarified its ownership structure, which allows it to feature on the Top 50. And traditional wine merchant Berry Bros Rudd has elected to participate in our survey for the first time this year - and has come straight in at number 21. The newcomers also include B&M Retail. After its founders regained control of the company from its private equity owners last year, it too moves over from our Best of the Rest ranking and enters our Top 50 in 15th place. Four years ago the retailer stocked a minority of food products, but now the bulk of its stock is food related.
At the other end of the scale we have our Bubbling Under companies.
These include Cook - the upmarket frozen food chain which is the current holder of The Grocer Gold Award for Best Independent Retail Chain. There’s three other new entrants: ambitious organic supermarketer Planet Organic; wine merchant Tanners Wines; and Scottish Spar chain D&M Edgar, which could catapault into the main ranking next year if it maintains its impressive growth rate.
What connects Cook and Farmfoods - and all the chains in between them in our Top 50 - is their independent spirit and their collective determination to keep winning in this toughest of retail climates.

The Grocer Top 50
>>farmfoods once again tops the rankings
RankCompanyType ofStoreEmployeeSalesGrowth
operationnumbersnumbers £my-o-y %
1FarmfoodsFrozen food discounter3023,500415.0-1.2
5Waynes Foods (Capper & Co)C-stores1101,928107.89.6
6Costcutter Retail Division (1)C-stores107592102.013.3
7Heron Frozen FoodsFrozen food discounter1301,21598.04.8
8Henderson Retail C-stores and forecourts521,20583.511.1
9Stars News Shops (2)C-stores and CTN153 3,547 81.0-5.8
10CJ LangC-stores771,28680.150.7
11G&E MurgatroydC-stores and forecourts781,31078.37.7
12Alfred JonesC-stores and forecourts801,15474.8-3.0
13Wine CellarOff-licences2001,20073.313.0
14Snax 24Forecourts8081571.036.5
15B&M RetailSupermarkets2283069.06.2
16Smile StoresC-stores951,01058.631.0
17Botterills Convenience StoresC-stores4288958.17.4
18Curley’s SupermarketsSupermarkets1557556.02.0
19Mills GroupC-stores801,25352.7-5.6
20Roys (Wroxham)Supermarkets & variety stores891251.2-5.9
21Berry Bros & RuddWine merchant891251.2-5.9
22G101 Off-SalesOff-licences and C-stores4734035.92.9
23Brian Fords Discount StoresFood discounter232234.7-1.3
24GT Retail GroupC-stores and CTN7066334.615.2
25Frozen ValueFrozen food discounter6457534.4-1.1
26UNS Hospitals (3)Hospital c-stores6059033.025.5
27Wineflair (3)Off-licences3833732.412.0
28Lawrence Hunt & CoC-stores2751030.38.9
29Gillett’s (Callington)C-stores3653530.214.2
30Stokes (3)Greengrocer6789529.5-3.7
31Harry TuffinsSupermarkets435027.52.0
32R&M Swaine (4)Off-licences3427026.812.0
33Winemark (3)Off-licences7229524.60.5
34Filco SupermarketsSupermarkets1034223.2
35The Proudfoot GroupSupermarkets632321.9-3.0
36Longs SupermarketsSupermarkets & off-licences1328020.7-0.2
37CK’s SupermarketSupermarkets1535020.29.2
38Anglian Convenience StoresSupermarkets2152820.0-4.8
39David SandsC-stores2044219.55.4
40RNS HoldingsC-stores1419816.54.2
41Stan’s SuperstoreSupermarket and forecourt115613.50.0
43Eismann UK (5)frozen food delivery serviceN/A22312.07.0
44J&J Wilson Shops (6)Supermarkets & c-stores4832411.913.3
46NewsplusC-stores and CTN2318510.87.0
47Park Garage GroupForecourts2818110.28.5
48AM LandsburghC-stores91869.60.0
49Maynews (7)CTN22208.516.0
50Chalfont Foodhalls (8)Supermarkets1828.50.0
Footnotes: 1. COMPRISES GROUP’S COMPANY-OWNED STORES ONLY; 2. MANAGERS ARE SELF-EMPLOYED AND EMPLOY OWN STAFF; 3. COMPANIES HOUSE figures; 4. Companies house figures, not updated since last year; 5. companies house figures, not updated since last year, some STAFF SELF-EMPLOYED; 6. employs 300 seasonal staff; 7. staff would be 140 with franchisees ; 8. staff incl Seasonal workers

Bubbling Under: The Next Five
51Planet OrganicOrganic food supermarkets31208.430.0
52JeroboamsWine merchant13607.110.9
53Tanners WinesOff-licences4217.04.5
54D&M EdgarC-stores and forecourts71006.824.0
55CookFrozen food retailer181786.458.0

How does it work?
The Grocer Top 50 ranks the UK’s biggest independent grocery chains by turnover net VAT, petrol and commission-based services such as the lottery and utility payments.
Companies are asked to fill in a questionnaire and the resulting information is taken in good faith. In cases where chains are unwilling to co-operate, and we felt the listing would be affected by their omission, we went to Companies House.
We exclude a number of chains from the main list. Those in which venture capitalists own 51% or more of the business, and those owned by private companies from overseas, for instance, are featured in a separate ranking (see page 36).
The major co-operative societies and the John Lewis Partnership may be private enterprises but we have decided to exclude them from our rankings as they are not owned by families or managers.

out - and in
Unwins and Fuelforce folded last year, while Shaws Supermarkets and Philip Russell were acquired by new owners. Wine Cellar has qualified for our main Top 50 rankings on the grounds of ownership.

Want to be involved?
If your chain has been missed out of this year’s Top 50 rankings, and you think it should be included in future surveys, please contact us by phoning 01293 610406.