East of England Co-op reports ‘healthy’ annual results despite ‘challenging conditions’

Staff at the East of England Co-op's new food store in Coggeshall, one of four opened by the society

Staff at the East of England Co-op's new food store in Coggeshall, one of four opened by the society last year. - Credit: Archant

The East of England Co-op has reported “a healthy trading performance in challenging conditions”, despite a dip in sales and trading profit over the past year.

The society, an EADT/EDP Top100 business with more than 200 outlets in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk, saw turn-over fall 0.9% to £338.5million in the year to January 23.

Underlying trading profit fell to £3.8m from £4.3m the year before, although profit before tax and distributions grew by £3.3m to £7.8m, helped by disposals and interest income.

Doug Field, joint chief executive, said: “This year our focus has been to ensure the long-term prosperity of our business, investing over £15m to improve our business and taking a number of difficult decisions.

“Looking to enhance the overall shopping experience for our members and customers, this investment included the refurbishment of 46 stores, the opening of four new food stores and 10 new post offices.

“Extending our offering to our members and customers we also entered into new retail partnerships with Subway, Brantano and others, as well as expanded our trading area with new optical branches in Chelmsford and Braintree.”

Mr Field said the permanent closure of some stores, and the temporary closure of others for refurbishment, had contributed to a 1% fall in food sales, although the Sourced Locally range achieved a 15% year-on-year increase.

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However, most of the society’s other businesses increased their sales, with the exception of forecourts, due to the falling price of fuel, and the distribution centre, reflecting the challenging food retail market.

The travel business did particularly well, with a 19.5% increase in sales, the funeral services business saw sales rise 4.8% and income from the society’s property portfolio grew by 3.4%.

Looking ahead, Mr Field said 2016 would be “a tough year”, with the National Living Wage and the new apprenticeships levy both adding to costs.

“However, we are committed to the continuation of the refurbishment of our existing stores, with the expansion of our funeral business also a key area of focus for the year ahead,” he added.