Independent retailers need to experiment with new products and be creative about how they showcase their fresh produce to stay ahead of the competition, wholesale bosses and retailers have said.

Birmingham retailer Mark Barnard, of Spar Cosford in Albrighton, said meat sales had doubled since he began displaying the products in open chillers at the front of his store. His meat sales now account for 4% of total sales.

“It’s about changing customers’ behaviour,” he said, speaking at Blakemore’s conference in Telford last week. “By putting meat first in our flow we give consumers the message they can get their evening meal solution from us and it gets them putting things in their baskets they would not otherwise buy.”

Meanwhile, after receiving an incorrect order, Jean and John Fleet, of Spar Emneth near Peterborough, trialled new lines which they were surprised to find proved popular.

“We now stock chilled meats, black pudding and fruit pots,” Mrs Fleet said. “Never believe you fully know what sells and what doesn’t.”

They have also invested in a low-cost refrigeration system, which has cut their utility bills by 20%, despite giving them six times more refrigeration. They have used the space to open up their whole range.

Managing director at Spar International, Tobias Wasmuht, believes fresh is key for retailers to differentiate from discount stores.

“There has been a growth of convenience stores, but there has also been a growth of discounters, so it’s important to drive new value in terms of own brand,” he said. “You’ve got to be in with fresh if you want to compete with discounters.”

Jerry Marwood, managing director of Blakemore Trading Partners, added: “Discounters have to do things in one way. What they do is fantastic, but they can’t customise their approach for different stores.