Co-op Group chief executive Steve Murrells unveiled the retailer’s new motto – “Co-op: It’s what we do” – at the organisation’s AGM on Saturday, to assert the movement’s values in the face of a range of social challenges.
He said it was the Group’s duty to engage with these problems as a community retailer – with some problems, such as a rise in violent crime, impacting it directly with attacks on stores and colleagues.
The AGM heard of measures to improve security in stores and to partner with community groups working to prevent knife crime, including Steel Warriors and the Damilola Taylor Trust.
“Co-operation is the only antidote to a broken Britain,” said Mr Murrells. “It’s always been a great response in troubled times. Co-operation is the answer because it puts you on the side of ordinary people. Co-operation is the answer because it’s tough, it’s bold, it’s creative.”
The Group’s efforts also include its campaign on modern slavery and a new round of community funding and the development of a Community Wellbeing Index. It is also trialling local online pages, with a pilot in Stretford, offering information on events and activities. The scheme is to be rolled out to five more communities this year.
“We’re not short of ideas or ambition,” added Mr Murrells. “Our challenge is making it known. We need to cut through the noise and the clutter… to present ourselves as one co-op society that acts in one way.”
Other challenges include Brexit, he said, which has “distracted” the country for three years. “Our business has been preparing for all eventualities,” he told delegates, “but there are some problems that can’t be fixed by stockpiling food.
“Debate has become coarser and more intolerant. For most people its been about feelings and emotions, about control over our lives, about how we make ends meet, when things seem unfair.
“Our co-op started in similar times. We need to co-operate more than ever – our values are more relevant than ever. It’s up to us to prove to the outside world that we have the answer. We need to speak in a language that people can understand, speak up, show our co-operative difference. We have to show that change can happen for the better. People will come our way, they will join us.”
Read more: Motions and voting results at the AGM
This means that Co-op Academies, which have turned round the life chances of children in areas of deprivation, and the Member Pioneers, “are about what we do as much as selling food,” said Mr Murrells.
Other initiatives include the announcement by chief financial officer Ian Ellis that the Group’s pension trustees “have chosen to invest 50m in social housing – a thousand homes aimed at key workers”.
Mr Murrells said these social commitments work alongside business and technical innovations to extend the Group’s brand – including the delivery robots and bikes, franchising, and stores at festivals – which this year will see Glastonbury added to the pop-up portfolio.
Other new business ventures – including probate and healthcare – would deliver social contributions by helping with funeral poverty and working on disease prevention to relieve the burden on the NHS, he said.
“Co-op values are at the heart of how we run our business today. Another example is Fairtrade. We remain committed while other retailers continue to pull back or develop alternatives. We know that Fairtrade is the gold standard and other alternatives are just confusing customers.
“We care about the world we share, and the world we pass on to our children. Climate change is the reason we launched our future food alternative.”
He said the Group had made commitments on responsible sourcing of soya and palm oil, had cut food waste by 30%, and had reduced its plastic packaging footprint to half the industry average.