Local retailer sees 17% growth in food profits despite challenging market

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The East of England Co-op has seen trading profits increase across their food, funeral and property businesses, following a year of investment in their people, estate and technology.

The member-owned retailer, which has over 230 trading outlets across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, has announced its annual results for 2017/18. Turnover has increased by £5.9m to £353.6m and profit before distributions and taxation has increased to £6.6m from £6.1m, whilst members’ funds were up from £207.5m to £212.5m.

Underlying trading profit was down from £4.4m to £4.2m, which is due in part to increased investment in security measures, having been one of many retailers to be victim to ATM ram raids and robberies.

The food business saw a 17% growth in profits, with a 2.3% like-for-like increase in sales on a comparable 52 week basis. New food stores in Acle and Harleston replaced existing smaller stores in those towns.

Continuing the expansion of their funeral business, the East of England Co-op opened 11 new branches across the region, including their second branch in Cambridgeshire, extending their services to new communities. 

Their property portfolio has also continued to grow in value, with housing developments completed in Colchester and Dovercourt contributing to a 5.2% increase in investment property income.

Doug Field, Joint Chief Executive for the East of England Co-op, said: “It has been a year of significant investment in the business and next year we will continue to reap these awards whilst addressing the challenges ahead.

“Our success in recent years is in part due to ensuring that we have the right stores and branches in the right places. Consistently high colleague engagement, good operational standards, our store refurbishment programme and investment in technology has contributed towards an increase in sales.  

“We will continue to offer our Apprenticeship Programme, which has seen 100% retention rates with many graduates going on to higher level education and management opportunities within the business, retaining local talent for the future. 

“Leading the agenda on food waste, we will also continue to develop our Co-op Guide to Dating initiative to save more food from going to landfill, as well as proactively looking at new ways to reduce single use plastics in our stores.”

Celebrating 10 years of their multi-award winning Sourced Locally initiative, sales continued to rise with over £17.6m of produce sold in 2017, bringing the total amount ploughed back into the local economy over the past decade to £62m.

Market conditions remain challenging, with the rising costs of doing business including the National Living Wage and rising inflation. However, the East of England Co-op believes they have much to look forward to in the coming years.

Doug concluded: “Over the coming year we will continue to focus on the three cornerstones of our business; food, funeral and property, whilst growing and reshaping our Co-op to ensure long term success.

“We will continue our successful food strategy, looking for new stores and continuing our refurbishment programme of existing stores.  Our funeral services have expanded rapidly and we will look to establish new locations over the coming year. Whilst investment in our property estate will continue, with new developments planned for 2018.

“We will continue to run the Co-op as it should be; working for our communities, members, customers and colleagues. With a strengthened estate, dedicated colleagues and a healthy balance sheet, we have much to look forward to in the coming year and beyond.”

A full breakdown of the East of England Co-operative’s audited figures is now available online at www.eastofengland.coop/Annualreport2018