The Co-op Group has reported strong financial results for 2019, with total revenues up 7% to £10.9bn, driven by continued strong performance from Food.
Announcing its results for the 52 weeks to 4 January 2020, the Group reported a 50% increase in underlying profit before tax to £50m. Revenue in Food rose 3% to £7.5bn with like-for-like sales up 1.9%. This means that the Co-op has delivered six consecutive years of like-for-like Food revenue growth.
In the Insurance business, gross written premiums totalled £491.4m, up from £485m in 2018. Revenue for the legal services division rose 13% £40m.
Funeral and Life Planning saw revenue fell from £317m in 2018 to £307m, partly reflecting investments to reduce prices and widen choice, and also a lower death rate.
The Group was able to reduce net debt to £695m, excluding lease liability, from £764m in 2018. Members saw £59m returned to them directly, while £17m went to 4,400 local causes chosen by members and colleagues.
Chief executive Steve Murrells said the positive results leave the Co-op Group well-equipped to cope with the challenges posed by Covid-19.
He said: “The Co-op made further financial progress through 2019, showing that co-operation is working. While we didn’t know it at the time, that performance set us up well to withstand the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and to enable us to support the communities we operate in.
“No part of our business has been unaffected by the outbreak of the virus and we have played a critical role in communities throughout the UK. Our Food business has helped to feed the nation and our Funeral colleagues have been there for families at their time of greatest need. All of this work will continue and I could not be more proud of our people who have delivered – day in, day out.
“Co-operation is something that is central not just to our business model, but to everything that we do and we are committed to continue to deliver against our vision of Co-operating for a Fairer World. Against the backdrop of Covid-19 we will review the strategy we had embedded across our businesses, aligning commercial and community objectives. Our responsibility as a co-op is to ensure that through our businesses, our wider influence is used to make the communities in which we operate feel stronger and more connected.
“That drives the business decisions we make – not profit alone and not shareholder value. The importance of that has never been so stark and we will continue to play our part for as long as we need to.”
Allan Leighton, independent non-executive chair of the Group, added: “The Co-op is drawing deeply on our values of commercial responsibility and community concern to play our part in responding to Covid-19. Our commitment is to do all we can to help our members, customers and colleagues through the weeks and months ahead. It is already clear that Covid-19 will have profound consequences for the UK and global economy and our Co-op members and customers will not be immune.
“Against that backdrop, our results for last year show that we are in a strong position to keep playing our part. At the Co-op, however, we measure our success differently. Strengthening and sustaining our local communities is fundamental to us and in 2019 we gave £17m to more than 4,400 local causes.
“Looking ahead, we believe that co-operative business endeavours and co-operative ways of working will be needed in the future even more than they were in the past.”