Co-op Norway paid a record £205.4m in dividends to members

Growth in membership and dividends comes against the backdrop of a Norwegian Competition Authority investigation

Retailer Co-op Norway announced a record total dividend paid to members of NOK2.4bn (£205.4m) in 2020, NOK300m (£25m) more than in 2019.

The group also increased membership by 120,000 – bringing the total close to 1.9million members, with the growth driven by an influx of young members. Around 38% of the new members in 2020 were under 30, with 60% under 60.

The retailer says the younger demographic was attracted by its digital offer – Co-op Norway redesigned its members’ app in 2020 to improve functionality and payments. Over 1.1 million member owners used the co-op’s membership app in January 2021 alone.

“The co-owners are our best and most loyal customers, who have each contributed to us now paying a record purchase dividend for 2020,” said CEO Geir Inge Stokke. “In addition, we have never had a higher amount of total savings from coupon discounts, values ​​from membership bargains and other membership benefits.

“It is obviously attractive for more and more younger customers, who also diligently use our digital channels and innovative services.

“We would like to thank the customers who have shown consideration and our employees who have made the required arrangements for safe and good shopping experiences in our stores. It has been a great advantage that we had innovative solutions that enabled us to control the spread of infection.”

The co-op is experimenting with new ways of keeping members informed about its activities, including via video messages.

“We are constantly developing the membership programme and include partners who give our loyal customers very good and relevant offers,” said Mr Stokke.

Covid-19 led to strong growth across the co-op’s food and DIY divisions in 2020, he added.

“When the coronavirus came and the country shut down in March last year, we had no idea what the future would be like. It started with hoarding toilet paper and yeast in March, and continued with a record number of Norwegians who had to renovate the house and work in the garden. Increased trade in the stores benefits our co-owners, through the record-breaking purchase dividend.

“Now we are in a new period with increased uncertainty and I am proud of how all employees in the store have handled the new everyday life.”

Norwegian Competition Authority investigation

The figures come as the retailer awaits a decision by the Norwegian Competition Authority (NCA). The regulator is investigating three grocery chains, including Coop Norway, for allegedly co-operating in a way that may have led to higher grocery prices.

The Competition Authority claims the three grocery chains agreed to allow their employees to access each other’s grocery stores with a view to scan shelf prices. The Authority’s preliminary assessment found that the grocery chains had used the price information collected to coordinate prices since 2011. The regulator argues this may have resulted in higher grocery prices to the detriment of consumers.

“We are very concerned about this kind of coordinations,” said NCA director general, Lars Sørgard, in a statement. “We have therefore informed the companies involved that we are considering imposing fines in this case. The grocery chains have maintained that they have used the price information they have collected to compete vigorously.

“The Authority’s preliminary assessment is, however, that the grocery chains have used the collected information to limit competition. They have in a number of cases, used the information in question in a manner, which may have lifted prices.”

NCA is considering imposing a fine of NOK4.8bn (£410m) on Coop Norge AS.

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