Heart of England Co-op reports sales lift for half-year dominated by pandemic

The society benefited as shoppers switched from big supermarkets to convenience stores – but uncertainty over Brexit remains a concern

Heart of England Co-operative Society has reported a 21% increase in food and funeral sales for the six months to 13 June.

The society’s interim results for the period were lifted by customers switching from large stores to convenience shopping during the Covid-19 crisis. Food sales saw a like-for-like increase of almost 22%.

The society says its newest stores – at Hockley Heath, Rotherham Road in Coventry and Sketchley Brook in Hinckley – all recorded significant increases well ahead of budget.

Its funeral divisions saw an increase of almost 16% in like-for-like although the average expenditure per funeral dropped, as lockdown restrictions led to smaller and in some cases unattended funerals.

The society’s overall operating profit stands at £3.6m – an increase of 87% on 2019. Its net assets now stand at £46.6m.

But CEO Ali Kurji warned that the future remained uncertain in a challenging trading environment – with the continued threat of Covid-19 and the Brexit deadline looming on 31 December and no guarantee of a successful deal.

“The retail industry as a whole continues to struggle,” the society said, “with the loss of several businesses and rising unemployment despite the government’s furlough scheme.

“Financial forecasts point to a significant decline in growth, with Covid-19 and the economic pressures taking its toll on the consumer’s disposable income.

“At a local level the Society trades in an increasingly competitive environment against national multiples and established discount retailers.”

Mr Kurji added: “The first half of the year was both unprecedented and challenging. Never before had we experienced such a situation and the second half is proving as equally challenging due to Covid-19, increased competition and Brexit.”

Convenience stores continue to play an integral role in the community, said Mr Kurji.

This has never been more evident than over the past few months,” he added. “As government restrictions continue the society is continuing to bolster its operations to ensure it continues to meet a market which is an ever-increasing state of flux.

“The society remains in a very strong position – both operationally and financially.  We have a robust operation with positive cash flow and reserves which we are able to draw upon for profitable projects going forward.”

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