Growth guaranteed Bestway is quite right to target the symbol group sector as an area for future growth, judging by the latest figures from IGD. It values the sector at £4bn, and says sales have increased 4% since 1998. The number of stores affiliated to groups has also grown by 2.2%. And that means symbol groups now account for 20.9% of all sales in the convenience market. Spar remains the leader in the sector, with 2,643 stores, followed by Londis with 1,926 and Costcutter with 849. Each of the three leading groups has increased its membership over recent years and has ambitious plans for growth. There has also been an increase in the importance of affiliated multiple groups. Within Spar, for example, the largest 26 members account for 25% of all stores and 36% of all sales. This trend looks likely to continue as, in addition to recruiting new members, the symbol groups are encouraging existing members to open more stores. The growth of directly managed stores by either symbol groups or wholesalers may also be a growth area in future, according to IGD. Five categories make up 61% of sales in the symbol group market: tobacco; beers, wine and spirits; grocery; chilled foods; and confectionery. Grocery and BWS are particularly strong, while tobacco and non food sales are growing fast. Typically operating on a lower margin than the market in general, symbol stores make less profit on milk, sandwiches, fast food and snacks than other stores. Margin increases have, however, been seen in wines and spirits and the chilled and frozen areas. The current 20 players in the symbol store market are likely to rationalise in future, says IGD, with a view to creating a smaller number of well known brands. This may also see wholesalers becoming more involved in the direct management of stores. {{NEWS }}