The opportunity for major operators to win market share from independents is reducing, meaning they will either have to take share from each other or increase spend per head, Horizons managing director Peter Backman has told M&C Report.

New research from Horizons has identified the fastest declining sectors in eating-out in 2013. Independent cafes experienced the sharpest dip, followed by leased and tenanted pubs, fish & chip shops, off-shore catering, and hotels with fewer than 10 rooms.

These all saw a decline by value of 7.5% or more.

The top performing category was pizza delivery, followed by pub restaurants, managed branded pubs, sandwich shops and coffee shops. These all had growth of at least 10%.

“It’s the independent, small scale business that has been suffering during the recession and will continue to,” said Backman.

“Group operators are becoming so significant that the opportunities of nibbling away at the independent sector are now being reduced. That would tend to suggests that group operators will start to cannibalise each other as oppose to all attacking the little players, which unknowingly they have been doing.

“With group operators having over 50% of the market, their opportunities for stealing business from independents is being reduced. That means that if they’re going to grow, growth has got to come either from consumers spending more or getting business from each other - there will be more getting business from each other.

“I’m not saying it’s all-out war and the next year is going to hugely effect the market. But it’s going to be there, and it’s going to be increasingly important over the next few years.”

At Horizons’ Annual Briefing in London yesterday - which had the theme Return to growth: Myth or Reality - Backman said that while 2013 saw the sector nominally grow by just under 1% to £44.9bn, this year it was likely to return to 2006 levels, showing nominal growth of 1.8%.

Taking inflation into account means a real growth of around 3.8%.

Meanwhile, during a panel session at the event, Mitchells & Butlers chief executive Alistair Darby called for a much closer working relationship between operators and suppliers.

“Think less about product development and more about what their customers are really trying to do with the business. Seek to understand what the retailer has got – develop a real partnership that can endure in the long-term.”