Local retailer sees over 30% growth in trading profit despite tough economic climate

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In its 150th year 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 2018/19. Alongside underlying trading profit which is up 33.2% (from £4.2m to £5.6m), Members’ Funds have also increased by £12.1m from £212.5m to £224.6m.

The Food business saw a 2.2% increase in sales, with East of England Co-op food stores benefitting from the ‘Beast from the East’ and a long hot summer, as well as reaping the rewards of their store refurbishment programme and investment in technology.  

Following the expansion of their Funeral Services business in 2017/18, market share is growing, despite a fall in the UK death rate.

The East of England Co-op’s Property Investment business has also continued to see success, with rental income nearing £8m per year from over 450 properties, including new housing developments on Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich and The Thoroughfare in Woodbridge. In addition, their former department store on Carr Street in Ipswich will be opening its doors to a new generation, having been sold to make way for a primary school. The site was purchased by Ipswich Borough Council and will be developed by the Government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Doug Field, Joint Chief Executive for the East of England Co-op, said: “We are seeing the benefits of doing business the co-operative way and investing in our business.  Our ability to leverage the technology we have invested in within our Food business has made a big difference.

“Leading the agenda on food waste, we will continue to develop our Co-op Guide to Dating initiative to save more edible food from going to landfill. We have now introduced fresh and frozen lines to the hugely successful scheme, which has seen over 200,000 items saved from going to waste. 

“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. 

“Following a re-launch in 2018, our security business, Co-op Secure Response continues to experience significant growth, with sales now approaching £1.5m, having extended the availability of our expert services to businesses across East Anglia and the United Kingdom.

“I am incredibly proud of the efforts of all our colleagues in delivering the increase in profits. It wouldn’t be possible without their hard work.”

Sourced Locally sales continued to rise with over £18m of products sold in 2018.

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: “Our long-term strategy remains the same – to continue to maintain a strong and sustainable business, to generate profits and support our communities.

"We are continuing our successful food strategy, investing in technology and ensuring we have a contemporary food store estate. The success of recent years is in part due to making sure we have the right stores in the right place. Whilst this led to a small number of store closures in 2018, we continue to look for new food store opportunities.  

"Our funeral business will see a number of branch refurbishments over the coming year, whilst we continue to invest in our Property Investment portfolio with developments in Colchester and Woodbridge planned for 2019.  

"The development of our security business Co-op Secure Response will continue. We anticipate this becoming a significant cornerstone of our business in the future.  

"We will continue to run our Co-op as it should be run; working for our communities, customers and colleagues. With a strengthened estate, dedicated colleagues and 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/annualreport2019.