Your Questions Answered

In this section

We would like to say a big thank you to all our members who submitted questions prior to and at our Annual Members' Meeting. It's great to hear from our members and we were pleased to be able to answer many of your questions live at our AMM. Those questions, as well as those we weren't able to get to have been answered below.

  • Community

    Q: Community groups closed during the lockdowns are now beginning to meet again. Are you able to support the organisations in the post-Covid period?

    A: We have been supporting our local community organisations throughout the pandemic. We launched the Community Cares Fund in April 2020 to respond to the collective crisis our region was facing because of the coronavirus pandemic. When we saw the difference we were able to make with the fund, we knew it was something we wanted to continue. 

    Supporting the communities we serve is deep-rooted in our values as a co-operative. As a community retailer we have always invested heavily in supporting local people, so the Community Cares Fund is something we’re proud of as it allows us to be much more responsive to the needs of our communities. 

    In the year since it launched, the Community Cares Fund has supported foodbanks helping families at crisis point, young victims of domestic violence and unpaid carers looking after friends, family and neighbours through lockdown. 

    The next round of funding is now open for applications. The East of England Co-op has made available over £200,000 which will be further added to by its members who choose to donate their dividends.  

    Q: Are we going to continue our link with the Co-operative party?

    A: At each AMM, members are asked to vote for our Co-op’s continued affiliation to the Co-operative Party. At this year’s AMM members approved the continuation of our support for the Co-operative Party for the 12 months ending June 2022. 

    As a founding society of the Co-operative Party, we have paid an annual subscription for more than 100 years, part of our proud tradition of working to bring co-operative values into parliament and our laws. Our Co-op regularly meets with the Co-operative Party to ensure we get political and legal support for things like protecting retail workers from crime and passing legislation to protect our co-operative values. 

    Q: What can you do to influence the Local Enterprise Partnership to ensure that the new business set up services they provide include advice on setting up co-ops?

    A: We have close links with New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), our Joint CEO, Doug Field, was Chair of the LEP from 2017 to 2020.  In addition to the work of the New Anglia LEP Growth hubs Co-operatives UK have fantastic resources on starting a new co-op: www.uk.coop/start-new-co-op

  • Coronavirus

    Q: Can you talk us through the amount of government support you received and in what form it was provided? What is the Society's position on keeping or paying back?

    A: Whilst we welcome the decision of large supermarket chains to repay the business rates relief and support they received during the pandemic; the East of England Co-op is not planning to return the funding support we received from the Government. 

    Although our Food stores, Funeral Services and Co-op Secure Response business (security) have continued to trade throughout the pandemic, our travel, events and masonry businesses have been forced to close in line with government guidelines. 


    To ensure our stores and branches that have been able to continue trading are Covid-secure, we’ve needed to make a significant investment in PPE, screens, and other measures to keep our colleagues and customers safe. 

    In response to the pandemic our co-op also diverted funds to support vital local services and good causes, such as local foodbanks, unpaid carers and those impacted by domestic violence. Our generous members added to this fund by donating their annual dividend payment. 


    Without doubt the Government’s rates relief and job retention scheme has helped our co-op provide this level of support to our members, customers and colleagues who have not been able to work throughout the crisis, for which we are extremely grateful. 

  • Membership

    Q: In these difficult trading times what has the Society undertaken to show not just its members but others as well the value of membership?

    A: We’ve got exciting plans for our members, which we look forward to announcing later this year including a number of new partnerships and member benefits. 

    Our existing members benefit from exclusive offers throughout the year, as well as our annual dividend. 

    To ensure you’re receiving your exclusive member offers, make sure you’re signed-up to receive our newsletters. You can do this on our website here.

    To enable us to provide more tailored offers to our members, we’ve introduced a new membership management system to give us more insight into our members’ shopping habits and preferences. This helps us to introduce members to new products they might like and to provide appropriate offers.

    Q: Will the in-store banks for paying in divi re open or will we always have to post to head office?

    A: Our Member Service Points were closed during the pandemic so that our colleagues in-store could focus on delivering essential services to our customers.  

    During this time, we took the opportunity to review and establish our online member services and as such we have taken the decision to close our in-store Member Service Points.

    Members can now deposit cheques, withdraw funds, request a statement of account, request a new membership card, update contact details and more on our website, at: www.eastofengland.coop/memberenquiries.  

    Our Member Support Team can also be contacted by email on membersupport@eastofengland.coop and by phone on 0800389 5354.

    Q: Are we thinking about more ways to involve members in the running of the society? Other societies have locally based activity membership committees?

    A: The core of our Director’s role is to represent our members, and this year we have introduced “Your Co-op live”, a series of live broadcast events from around our region, all of these events include a question and answer session that allows our members to engage with us. Our members can always contact us via the “contact us” section on our website. Members can also donate some or all of their dividend to our Community Cares Fund, which directly supports our themes of Wellbeing, Food justice for all and Community Action.

  • People

    Q: Can the Colchester Shrub End store staff be praised for very effective and safe control of queues?  Staff need huge praise for going above and beyond.

    A: We are incredibly proud of all our colleagues. Throughout the pandemic, our customers have relied upon us to keep our stores stocked and open for truly essential retail – buying the food they need to feed themselves and their families.

    This wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible work of all our frontline colleagues. They have worked tirelessly under extremely challenging circumstances to provide a safe retail environment for our customers to buy food.

    Q: Aside from an extra week of pay, how have you supported staff throughout the pandemic? Some are on the front line, others isolated at home.

    A: Firstly, what was really important for our colleagues was their personal protection. We secured stocks of PPE early on, well before it became mandatory to wear face coverings.  

    Colleague welfare is paramount, and we have in place a confidential helpline to assist colleagues called Grocery Aid. A number of colleagues have taken the opportunity to use this service, where they can express concerns and worries freely in a confidential way and gain support. We also introduced a Covid helpline so that colleagues could access support and advice from our Health and Safety and HR Services teams.  

    In recognition of our colleagues’ determination and resilience the Board, in April 2020, gave an extra week’s pay to all colleagues, as well as £110 in vouchers in December and a further £50 before the April Bank Holiday. These additional payments were not made to our Leadership Team.

    Colleagues also benefited from the doubling of their employee discount, from 10% to 20%. This enhanced benefit is still in place and this will be reviewed at the end of the year.

    We pride ourselves on the care and support we provide our colleagues and therefore those that could work remotely have done so in line with Government instructions. 

    Q: Is the Society considering incorporating the minimum "Living" wage rather than the national minimum pay rates?

    A: We continue to pay our colleagues under 25 years of age our full ‘adult’ pay rate rather than exercising the right to pay the lower rates permitted under national minimum wage regulations.  

    The hourly rate of the highest paid colleagues is 16.5 times that of our lowest paid colleague, being well within the maximum ratio of 1:20 recommended by the Work Foundation. 

    Q: In the present political climate what steps are the society taking to support your ethnic minority colleagues?

    A: We continually strive to be a more inclusive and diverse organisation. We’re currently updating our action plan for the next 12 months following an external review by our internal auditors.

  • Property

    Q: Can we follow the great example of Central England Cooperative in providing a dividend for those pay rent to East of England Coop for residential accommodation?

    A: The great benefit in renting a home from us is that we are a responsible landlord, with a fair and reasonable approach, providing high quality accommodation.

    We have worked hard to ensure our residential portfolio is in good condition. The units are maintained to a high standard and all compliance matters are undertaken by professionally qualified specialists. We go over and above statutory minimums in our checks and maintenance.

    Q: I am looking forward to getting the new Co-op at Chesterwell and I hope this will have an optician, a chemist and maybe a travel shop?

    A: Chesterwell will join our family of premium format stores, featuring our multi-award winning Sourced Locally range, including many products which are grown and produced in Essex, our luxury ‘Irresistible’ range and our signature beers and Fairtrade wines. There will be 1400 new homes that will be part of the development so we need to devote all of the space to food retail in order to serve the community of Chesterwell.

    We’re very much looking forward to being a part of this new community as it continues to develop and grow into Colchester’s flagship development.


    Surrounded by two, three and four-bedroom homes, the supermarket will be situated in Chesterwell Place, a neighbourhood centre featuring a mixture of shops, schools and offices. 

    Q: In some smaller coop stores, it would be a good idea to consult disabled people on the spacing between shelves as there are roof supporting posts between the shelves and the space is very tight for wheelchair users.

    A: We have a wide portfolio of stores, each of which are unique and of varying age, size and design. We understand that, particularly in some of our smaller stores, space is at a premium.

    We follow all statutory regulations including the Equality Act to ensure our stores are the best they can be. Unfortunately, where we have buildings with structural columns within the floorspace we are not always able to lay the store out as we would like. However, we always do our very best to accommodate all shoppers including wheelchair users.

  • Products

    Q: How does your pricing strategy compare with other major retailers?

    A: We are comparable on price in the sector we operate in, which is the convenience market, and with our promotional activity we provide real value.  

    Q: Pleased that the Society now has a delivery service, could you clarify the position re Dividend points on Snappy Shopper purchases?

    A: Dividend points can be collected on all Snappy Shopper purchases. As long as members add the Barcode number from the back of their membership card to their Snappy Shopper purchase then dividend points will be added to their account

    Q: Self-service checkouts can be difficult for wheelchair users due to the height they are set at and available space.

    A: Whilst we have installed self-checkouts at 86 of our stores, our colleagues remain at the forefront of our shopper experience and we have made sure that there will always be assisted checkouts available.

    Q: Are you planning to increase your online presence in the next few years?

    A: Yes, we want to make sure we’re providing the best possible service to our communities and we intend to expand our online services in the coming months and years.

    In December 2020 we introduced our online home delivery service with Snappy Shopper. With more and more people turning to online shopping during the pandemic, we wanted to make sure we could offer this service to our customers.  

    Having partnered with Snappy Shopper, we’ve made well over 20,000 deliveries since December 2020.  

    Home delivery and Click & Collect is now available from more than three quarters of our stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. We look forward to seeing how it can develop even further.  

    We’ve also partnered with digital loyalty card app, Stocard to allow our members to store their membership card on their phone. Over 11,000 members are now using their new digital membership card.  

    In addition to this, Members can now deposit cheques, withdraw funds, request a statement of account, request a new membership card, update contact details and more on our website, at www.eastofengland.coop/memberenquiries.  

  • Funeral services

    Q: Many millions, both debit and credit, have to be shown in the accounts but the hidden liability for funeral bonds is ignored. Why?

    A: The income from funeral bond investments is only received by our Co-op when the funeral is actually conducted – the investment income is a non-cash item until the funeral has been conducted and Royal London transfer the money to us.  

    The accounting standards changed back in 2016, five years ago. We are not responsible for accounting standards. Under the old accounting standards this investment income was used to offset the cost of the funeral when the bond was redeemed. These changes in accounting standards, which we need to comply with mean that somewhere between £15m and £20m has been recognised as profit earlier than we would have under the old accounting standards. 

    We do recognise both assets and liabilities for funeral bonds. As detailed in 5.1 of the Annual Report on page 71 we recognise a liability of £47.6m in respect of funeral bonds. 

    Q: We've seen how the funeral business has adapted in the last year to remote working. Will you still need all these branches in the future?

    A: Whilst near-normal services have resumed, at the height of the pandemic we were faced with many restrictions on the services we could provide.

    As well as preparing to support an increased number of families in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, using our knowledge and expertise, we were able to adapt to new restrictions, whilst continuing to provide the same level of care and support as we would in person. 

    Working from behind closed doors, our teams were communicating with those who had lost loved ones by phone and email. 

    As restrictions ease, providing the highest level of care and support will always be our top priority. We will continue to review and adapt our funeral business to make sure we can best support those who have lost loved ones.

  • Sustainability

    Q: What are your plans for eliminating vegetables packed in plastic bags?

    A: Research conducted by WRAP showed that in some situations plastic packaging helps keep produce fresher for longer. It’s important that we take into consideration the potential for an increase in food waste should packaging be removed, and so we’re currently looking at recyclability of packaging rather than its removal.  

    We and other independent co-operative societies are supplied by Co-op Group as a wholesaler. Co-op Group has committed to work closely with their suppliers to ensure that the right amount of packaging is used on Co-op branded products, with the ambition for all packaging to be 100% easy to recycle by 2023. You can find out more on their website at www.food.coop.co.uk/food-ethics/environmental-impacts

    We also work closely with over 100 local producers from across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex who supply us directly, all of whom are working towards using 100% recyclable packaging. 

    Q: Is the Society intending to eliminate having bags for life along with Midcounties Society?

    A: We don’t have any plans to eliminate reusable plastic carrier bags. Having spent a great deal of time finding the most suitable bags for our customers, whilst also looking at their environmental impact, today, we sell a compostable bag and have replaced our ‘bag for life’ with a reusable plastic carrier bag. This bag is made using 100% sustainably sourced recycled LDPR (low density polythene) and is 100% recyclable. 

    We’ve been actively reducing our output of single-use plastics since 2008, when we were one of the first retailers to start charging for single-use carrier bags, before stopping the sale of them all together in 2016.  

    Q: It is good to hear that you have reduced your carbon footprint by 25%. When do you hope to achieve 'Carbon Neutral' by?

    A: In the 2020/21 financial year, we’ve achieved a 25% decrease in our overall emissions, and our aspiration is to be ‘Carbon Neutral’ by 2030.

    We have continued to install modern refrigeration on our branches and this has helped us realise significant reductions in CO2e emissions.  

    We believe being sustainable means looking at every part of our business and culture. Our approach is intended to be a ‘living’ process, subject to continual review to ensure that it remains current and evolves alongside our Co-op and the wider needs of the planet.  

    We have chosen to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals Compass. Also known as the Global Goals, they aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.  

    Our Sustainability approach will be available to view on our website shortly.

  • Finances

    Q: How does the financial performance of the East of England Coop for the last year compare to other comparable UK retail co-operatives?

    A: We’re in a strong position. Overall, our results compare favourably, however, we’re focussed on what we can control which is the service and services we provide our colleagues, members and customers.  

    The major multiples and Co-operatives have all seen significant year-on-year growth in Food revenue, with the East of England Co-op recording one of the highest percentage increases. These increases reflect the changes in behaviour during the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

    Funeral providers saw a decrease in the average price of funerals given the limitations placed by government restrictions. This was consistent with our Funeral business. 

    Q: When did we last change our auditors? It is good to change them from time to time.

    A: The appointment of auditors is voted on by our members at our AMM. As members will be aware from last year’s AMM, EY were appointed as Society auditor for the year ended 23 January 2021.

    As a result of Covid 19 and resulting changes to the way in which audits are conducted, additional disclosures have been required for this year primarily relating to growing concern status. These are set out within the Annual Report. 

    During the year the Committee have also reviewed internal audit reports from PwC, who have been appointed as the Society’s internal auditor.  These audits were based on an annual audit plan agreed by the Committee.  

    We regularly review all our professional advisors; both our current external and internal auditors are recent appointments following a review in 2019.