Central England Co-op has reported a strong first half of 2020 with an interim trading profit of £19.3m (2019: £11.4m).
Gross sales for the six months to 8 August were £486.4m (2019: £484.6m), with chief executive Debbie Robinson hailing “an incredibly strong performance … which has been driven significantly by our food business”.
The retail society’s capital expenditure of £5.5 million saw two new food stores and three refurbishments during the past six months, with more planned in the coming second half of the year.
Members, colleagues and communities shared a £2.1m dividend payout, the society added.
The report also highlighted the society’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. Additional costs from pandemic measures totalled £9.3m, with the society receiving £5.4 million in government support in the form of business rates relief, property grants and furlough payments for a limited number of colleagues.
More than 7,000 frontline colleagues were issued over three million items of PPE, hand sanitiser, protective screens and face coverings. And the society revamped its Community Dividend Fund to provide urgent financial support to help groups impacted by the pandemic.
It made major donations to FareShare Midlands and Dementia to ensure their work could continue.
Ms Robinson said: “I would like to thank our colleagues for their heroic efforts during these difficult times and also our board, our members, our customers and our communities for their support and for working with us during this pandemic to ensure we stay safe and well.
“Safety has always been our top priority, and we have invested in a number of measures to ensure we have been able to provide a secure environment for our colleagues, members and customers.”
The society’s plans include trials of new technology to make shopping easier such as self-scan checkouts and scan and go. And it will be revamping its online presence to utilise new developments such as being able to plan your funeral online.
It is also experimenting with new ideas and formats such as rolling out community cafes, with the first opened at the Littleover food store in Derby. The cafe – operated by Irish chain Insomnia – opened in Easter.
The six months also saw the society transfer its travel business to Midcounties Co-operative, while offering all impacted colleagues the chance to move across to Midcounties as part of the move or a position in Central England’s food or funeral business.
Elaine Dean, society president, said: “We are living through unprecedented times where our co-operative values and principles have shone through more than ever.
“The board is truly grateful to and in awe of our amazing colleagues who have been leading the way with their incredible fortitude and commitment across all parts of the society.”