Retail co-operatives have announced increased sales for December, with customers showing a particular interest in locally sourced products.
The Midcounties Co-operative enjoyed a 3.5% like-for-like sales growth across its food stores for the three weeks to 31 December 2016.
The society says the sales growth was led by an increased availability of local products and the strength of the new Co-op own-label ranges, as well as a focus on unique offers to its members. In addition, Midcounties is running a £30m store investment programme, which includes new formats for its supermarkets and convenience stores.
It expanded its chilled and frozen food party range, which included Christmas centred-piece styled desserts. Midcounties’ own Best of Our Counties range saw a 42% increase in sales in the month of December, compared to the previous year.
Deputy chief executive Phil Ponsonby said: “Our rising sales over Christmas this year reflect the growing popularity of our stores and the quality of the product ranges we now offer.
“We’ve improved our product range with our own locally sourced products and the new Co-op branded range getting a good response from customers. We are extremely grateful to our hard working store teams for producing these fantastic results.”
Mr Ponsonby added: “Through our Customer First initiative, we’ve put our customers at the heart of our reinvestment programme. The layout of our refurbished stores supports shopper-buying patterns, with merchandising that more easily allows people to shop for now, tonight and later. This is particularly important in our convenience stores, where we’ve reformatted our layouts to tailor the space to shopper buying habits.
“We have been particularly pleased with the results of our new format stores which are attracting new customers and increasing the share of spend from existing shoppers. We have seen sales increases of up to 40% which is testament to the popularity of these new format stores and improved customer service.”
At Lincolnshire Co-operative, like-for-like sales in the three-week period from 11 December to 31 December rose 12.6%. Furthermore, the two-week period from 18 December to 31 December saw like-for-like sales go up by 17.7%.
Lincolnshire’s 260,000 members received a dividend bonus of £1.6m in December, in addition to the £1.9m collected during the year.
Locally sourced goods were particularly popular during the period, with Lincolnshire’s own bakery Gadsby’s seeing its festive range sales increase by 15%, with a record-breaking 152,000 individual mince pies sold.
Sales also doubled for local cheeses and increased by 30% for the Love Local range.
Chief retail officer Mark Finn said: “We’ve had an exceptional festive performance and my thanks go out to every member of our team, from the frontline staff in our stores to those in our warehouses and support offices. It’s their hard work which has made this happen, as well as the support of our customers and members – we worked hard all year to give them great service, availability and value.
“We had a fantastic Christmas range on sale and many customers pre-ordered products like turkeys as they trusted us to deliver. Our community-based locations and long opening hours meant people could conveniently pick up everything they needed to make their celebration special by just popping into their local Lincolnshire Co-op.
“We also paid out our dividend bonus before Christmas and we were pleased to see members treating themselves with the dividend this festive season.”
In a message to Co-operative Group colleagues, chief executive of the Co-operative Food, Steve Murrells, said: “While lots of people headed to the big supermarkets for their Christmas shop, we still had millions of customers coming to our stores, with our busiest trading day falling on Christmas Eve. Overall like for like sales were up 3.5% in the three weeks of Christmas – that’s outstanding!
Mr Murrells said the launch of the society’s new membership offer last year was one of the reasons why customers shopped at the Co-op, coupled with an improvement in their availability of product range.
“Our biggest selling line was our Own Brand Prosecco and we had great sales success across produce as a whole, with our availability on core lines being better than ever in the run up to the big day. In fact in Christmas week our availability across the store was much better than last year with 300,000 fewer gaps.
“Friday 23 December was the biggest day for our members redeeming the money they’d saved up through the membership 5% against their shopping, but there’s still an amazing £10m sitting in their digital wallets,” he added.
Last year, the Group announced it would create a membership 1% community fund, to be topped out every time members bought own brand products. So far, the fund has raised £2.9m. Over Christmas and New Year mince pies sales raised almost £5,500 while the Co-op’s Own Brand Prosecco contributed £13,000 to the total. The Co-op Group is also adding £3.5m to the fund through the carrier bag levy.
Essex-based Chelmsford Star Co-operative also reported a boost to its food business over the festive season. The co-op, which runs 40 convenience stores in Essex, announced a growth of 9.46% to food sales in the three weeks to 31 December 2016. Like-for-like sales increased for the co-op by 6.04% during the three-week period.
Chief executive Barry Wood said: “The performance reflects the work that has been put in throughout the year to improve on shelf availability, and to be rewarded at this key trading time with a strong like for like performance is very pleasing.”
As it prepares for its 150th anniversary, Chelmsford Star will continue to invest in more stores and plans to introduce a selection of new benefits for its members.
Central England Co-operative, which has over 400 trading outlets across 16 counties, reported like-for-like sales of £46.3m, up 4.6% for the three weeks ending 31st December 2016.
In convenience stores, like-for-like sales rose 6.2%, with over 1.9 million customer transactions across all store formats during Christmas week, with the highest ever daily sales of £3.8m on Christmas Eve.
Among the best performing products were the co-op’s in-store bakery and range of beers, wines and spirits. New seasonal product lines and floral gifts also performed well.
Chief executive Martyn Cheatle said: “We are proud of our strong sales figures during the Christmas and New Year period.
“This growth shines a light on the excellent range of quality products we had on offer in our stores, the expert planning that went into our festive strategy and the hard work, dedication and commitment by all of our colleagues.
“I would like to thank all colleagues, customers and members for their support during this very busy period.”
The Southern Co-operative saw total convenience store sales increase 9% across the 13 week period to 8 Jan 2017. In spite of the continued price deflation, the co-op witnessed 1% like-for-like sales growth.
Chief executive Mark Smith said: “Our performance in such a competitive market reflects our continued investment in the development of our retail estate and the strength of the enhanced co-op own brand product range. Together these provide a platform for continued growth in 2017.”
The East of England Co-operative experienced a 6.2% increase in food sales.
Chief executive Roger Grosvenor said: “Our local convenience offer meant we experienced a successful trading period once again this Christmas.
“We saw a fantastic 6.2% increase in food sales, with customer transactions also up 2.4% for the same period. This is even better than last year and a very encouraging result in what is a difficult and crowded market.
“Alongside our strong supermarket offering, our Sourced Locally range performed well. Local mince pies proved to be particularly popular, with sales up 17% this year.
“Our annual Funeral Remembrance Services brought together many people across the region to celebrate and remember the lives of those close to them, who are no longer with us.
“Our Post Office team continued to give great customer service during their busiest time of the year and colleagues in our Travel branches really got behind our Santa’s Suitcase appeal, collecting a record breaking 625 toys for East Anglian Children’s Hospice.
“Our Pharmacy team provided over 500 Flu jabs to colleagues and the public, our Stonemasonry business Perfitts installed 244 memorials and over 60 kitchen worktops and our Optical team completed over 1,100 sight tests , which is 100 more than last year.
“We are also very pleased with our Boxing Day sales, which were up 30% from 2015. This is the second year we have opened and we continue to see good numbers of customers taking advantage of the convenience this offers them. As always, our good results across the business are due to the hard work of our colleagues, who truly are our greatest asset.”
Another co-operative retailer, the Heart of England Co-operative has recorded an increase in sales over the festive period.
Like-for-like sales showed an increase of 4.9 per cent in the three weeks to December 31st – with refrigerated foods such as the Society’s Christmas range and ready meals performing particularly well. Ambient Christmas lines such as sweets and chocolates also had a strong performance well over the period.
Peter Fletcher, General Manager of the Heart of England Society’s Food Division, which operates a network of food stores across Coventry, Warwickshire, south Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, said a number of the stores had recorded strong sales increases.
In Nuneaton, the Galley Common, which opened its doors in September 2015, recorded an increase of 22 per cent. The society’s stores at Warwick Gates, in Warwickshire, and Stoney Stanton, in Leicestershire – both of which recently increased their refrigerated food range after undergoing mini refurbishments just before Christmas – also recorded increases of 12 per cent and, respectively, eight per cent.
Ali Kurji, chief executive of the Heart of England Co-operative Society, said: “We are delighted to report increases in our like-for-like sales over Christmas.
“The past year has continued to prove extremely challenging for the retail market but as a Society we continue to invest in our stores to ensure continued profitability and future sustainability, and to continue to meet the needs of our members, customers and our staff.”