Sales and profits up at Co-op

THE East of England Co-operative Society today reported “strong progress” in the form of increased half-year sales and profits, despite a highly competitive trading environment.

THE East of England Co-operative Society today reported “strong progress” in the form of increased half-year sales and profits, despite a highly competitive trading environment.

The Ipswich-based society - the UK's third-largest independent consumer co-operative - achieved a trading profit before asset disposals of £5.5million during the 28 weeks to August 11, up 26% from last year's first half figure of £4.4million.

Overall sales increased by 6.8%, from £203million to £217million, with figure benefiting from the society's acquisition of the 20-strong Anglian Convenience Stores chain.

On a like-for-like basis, sales were 3.5% ahead, mainly driven by a good performance from the society's major trading division, food retail, which produced a 3% improvement on last year; including a market-leading like-for-like sales improvement of around 5.7% in the society's food stores in the north of the region.

Major developments during the first half included the opening of a new £5 million replacement supermarket at Stanway in Colchester, the extended Rosehill Supermarket in Ipswich, and the refurbished West Mersea Supermarket, all of which now have the new East of England Co-op identity and branding. A new optical practice was also acquired in Clacton-on-Sea.

The integration of the former East Anglian Federal Society has been completed, giving the East of England Society 100% control of the regional distribution centre, which provides an efficient distribution service to Co-op food stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, including stores operated by the Co-operative Group, Anglia Regional society and Chelmsford Star society.

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Membership of the East of England society also continued to grow, with more than 16,000 new members having joined since January, and more than 414,000 new Co-op Dividend Cards have now been issued to members since the introduction of the new dividend scheme earlier this year.

Richard Samson, the society's chief executive, said: “We have again successfully increased both overall sales and profit producing a very creditable result at this stage of the year. I am particularly pleased that we have achieved a 26% increase in trading profit at a time when our stores are coming under increased competitive pressure.

“Our food retail business is now one of the fastest growing major UK consumer co-operatives this year, with the acquisition of the Norfolk-based Anglian Convenience Stores chain in February helping to increase our market share.

“These newly acquired stores are producing higher sales levels following their re-branding as East of England Co-op food stores and they are now fully integrated into our dividend scheme for society members.

“We intend to build on this success and further developments and acquisitions are under consideration,” said Mr Samson. “We are also committed to revitalising our existing stores and extending our new East of England Co-op identity across the region to provide our Members with first class shops in their local communities.

“The indications are that we will have to stay totally focused on maximising trading opportunities in the critical months ahead, to ensure that we can maintain a strong performance in what looks like being a difficult run-in to the end of 2007.

“We will continue to review all our businesses, especially any under-achieving or loss-making ones, to ensure that they have a profitable role to play in our future trading profile.”

Mr Samson added: “Our success this year is due entirely to the superb efforts of our colleagues across the Society, to whom I offer my sincere appreciation.

“I'm delighted that we were able to find time to honour many of our society colleagues at our first ever OSCAS (Outstanding Service to Customers and Staff) Awards Event in June.

“There were many very worthy winners, both individuals and stores, with the ultimate accolade of “Employee of the Year” going to Austin Solomon, warehouse and distribution manager at the Paul's Road warehouse in Ipswich, who was a popular and deserving winner.”

The East of England Co-operative Society is the largest independent retailer in East Anglia. It has more than 200 trading outlets located in 73 towns and villages, plus the regional centres of Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester, and covers an area of more than 2,000 square miles from Sheringham in Norfolk to Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex.