Co-op profits beat the gloom

THE East of England Co-operative Society, the largest independent retailer in East Anglia, has defied the economic gloom to ring up a 10% increase in annual profit.

THE East of England Co-operative Society, the largest independent retailer in East Anglia, has defied the economic gloom to ring up a 10% increase in annual profit.

The society, the third-largest consumer co-operative in the UK, yesterday reported a 3.2% increase in turnover on continuing operations for the year to January 24, with food sales 5.7% ahead on a like-for-like basis.

Underlying trading profit was 10.1% ahead at �11.4 million, and the society's members will share in a dividend fund of �4.2 million - equivalent to 2.5p in the pound for qualifying purchases during the year and one of the highest payouts in the consumer co-operative sector.

There will also be an increased payout under the society's Employee Dividend Scheme, first introduced a year ago, which will benefit more than 3,000 qualifying employees.

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The society added that the past year had also seen record capital investment - entirely self-funded - in its property estate while the trading for the current year had also started positively, with food sales 5% ahead during the first quarter of 2009.

Richard Samson, chief executive, said: “2008 was an exceptionally difficult year, which took its toll on many of our competitors, and trading has been challenging in several of our own businesses. In spite of this, we have been able to show an overall increase in underlying trading profit of more than �1 million to �11.4 million, over 10% higher than in the previous year.

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“The roll out of the East of England brand identity to food stores and supermarkets, plus store refurbishments and competitive pricing have met with considerable success. Our refurbished stores have recorded significantly increased sales and our customers clearly value the service and convenience these local stores offer.”

Mr Samson added: “I would like to thank our members for their continued support and my colleagues across the society for their excellent efforts in achieving a good trading result in a particularly difficult year.

“I'm delighted that we will again be rewarding colleagues through our Employee Dividend Scheme. This is the second year this hugely popular scheme has been in place and this year's payout totals �813,000, increasing from �751,000 in the previous year, to be shared by over 3,000 qualifying employees.”

The society spent a record �27.7 million on its ongoing capital development programme, with major food retail refits completed during the year at stores including Dedham, Frinton-on-Sea, Kelvedon, Wivenhoe, Felixstowe and Manningtree, plus a substantial store extension at Elmswell.

In Felixstowe town centre other retail operations were also updated and rebranded, including the Pharmacy, Optical, Home Store and Petrol Filling Station. The Pharmacy in Nacton Road, Ipswich and the Optical practice in Clacton were also refurbished during the year.

A new Electronic Point of Sale system was fully installed across the society's portfolio of food stores during the year and will be introduced into Pharmacy and Optical branches during 2009, which the society said yesterday would lead to greater management controls and efficiency.

The Funeral department also saw considerable investment with the addition of eight new vehicles as part of a planned programme of improvement, and Travel branches in Essex were rebranded to reflect the new Co-operative Travel identity.

There were also two major acquisitions during 2008, including The Triangle Centre retail development in Frinton-on-Sea, where the society has an anchor supermarket, and the Wherstead Park office complex outside Ipswich which has become the society's head office.

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