Recession-busting profits for Co-op

THE East of England Co-operative Society has overcome the tough economic conditions to report an annual trading profit up by nearly one-third on the previous year.

The Ipswich-based society, which is the largest independet retailer in East Anglia with more than 200 stores across Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex, has reported an underlying profit of �15.1million for the year to January 23, up by �3.6m on 2008-09.

Turnover on continuing operations, in a year which saw the society sell its department stores business to Vergo Retail, now in administration, grew by 4% to �384m, with like for like food sales up 5.5%.

Food sales have now recorded 16 successive quarters of like-for-like growth, despite a number of competitors opening new stores within its trading area.

Richard Samson, chief executive, said: “We have made good progress across the society, particularly within our core food retail business, which has benefited from considerable investment in refurbishments and improvements to stores.

“It is pleasing that we have been able to record such an excellent increase in our underlying trading profit, but it has been a hugely challenging year and we believe that the economic climate will remain very difficult throughout 2010.

“I would like to thank colleagues across the society for their unstinting efforts and commitment to helping us build a better society, enabling us to once again improve our underlying business performance.”

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Mr Samson added: “Over the past three years we have invested over �50m in modernizing and expanding key businesses, including �15m in the last year, and this significant level of capital expenditure has come from our retained profits.

“We have maintained an enviable position of operating with no net debt and the society has an extremely sound financial base. However, 2010 is proving to be extremely challenging and we don’t see any real signs of so-called ‘green shoots’ in the local economy as yet.”

Society members will share in a dividend payout of �3.3m, which equates to a rate of 2% of qualifying purchases.

Major refurbishments completed during the year included Co-op supermarkets in Framlingham, Leiston, Brightlingsea, Frinton-on-Sea and Burnham-on-Crouch, each of which received investment in excess of �1m.