Independents are divided over whether they will weather the adverse economic conditions predicted for 2008.

More than 50 per cent of retailers questioned in a telephone poll by The Grocer expect sales to rise significantly in the next 12 months. The rest think they will either be static or fall, though only 20% fear the latter.

None of the retailers questioned have great hopes of excellent profits this year, however. "We think we will do OK profit-wise but we don't predict significant profit increases," was a typical response.

Independents who believe sales will increase cite range extensions and consumer snacking trends as the main reasons. "We have increased the number of products and the breadth of some ranges, which we think will lead to better sales," says one retailer.

"Snacking products seem to be more and more popular, whether they are healthy lines such as fruit or chocolate bars and packs of crisps, and we don't see this changing," says another.

Retailers also think PayPoint and Payzone terminals will help them increase footfall as people become more used to paying for electricity or mobile phone top-ups in this way.

Others are less confident about prospects and believe the ban on selling cigarettes to under-18s and the ban on smoking in public places introduced into England last year will hit sales of tobacco in 2008. They also fear the loss of additional impulse purchases that smokers would have made, such as confectionery and soft drinks.

A quarter of those polled believe greater competition from the big four will hit their bottom lines. A number of retailers say a Tesco Express or Sainsbury's store has opened nearby and so they expect sales of products such as newspapers, milk and groceries to fall.

But not all retailers think increased competition from supermarkets will significantly hurt their businesses. "Since a Tesco Express opened near us, customers have come to us saying they want to support us more than ever," says one small shop owner. "We will certainly lose sales of some products that the larger stores can sell at much cheaper prices, but hopefully we will see more loyalty from established customers as well."