East of England Co-op has posted a loss before tax of £1.7m but says it is in “a strong position” to recover from the impact of Covid-19, with trading profit up £2.7m to £7.2m.
In its annual report for the year to 23 January, the society says a significant increase in food sales has helped to offset the impact of the pandemic on some of its other businesses.
Joint CEO Doug Field, said: “This £2.7m increase on last year’s trading profits, wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication and resilience of our colleagues. This boost in trading profits is down to additional profits generated from our food stores.
“Our co-op is a diverse mix of businesses, operating many smaller supermarkets and convenience stores that support villages and small towns across the region and have for many customers, been the only source of food. In contrast, several of our other businesses have had to close for significant periods since March 2020 in line with government guidance.
“So, despite an increase in trading profits we ended the financial year with a loss before tax of £1.7m.
“Throughout the pandemic our priority has been the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, members and communities and we have invested well over £1 million to keep everyone safe. We have benefited from the support provided by the government, which has helped offset the costs we have been incurring.“
Across its businesses which continued to trade as normal, the society saw a a 4.2% increase in sales – including a £26.6m increase in food sales. The report says customers shopped less frequently but spent more during each visit.
Mr Field added: “Despite a fall in rental income our investment property business maintained its profitability. We are also proud to have provided financial assistance to private residential and commercial tenants across our region who have struggled amid the crisis created by Covid-19.
“Unsurprisingly, given the impact of the pandemic, our funerals, H.L. Perfitt, petrol filling stations, travel and events business all saw profits fall.
“With government restrictions significantly impacting both domestic and international travel, our travel sales were down nearly 90% and our petrol filling stations saw volumes down by over 20%.”
Mr Field said 2020 had been a tough year but “the unshakable dedication and commitment of our colleagues” helped the co-op make an “incredible, positive impact on the daily lives of our members, customers and communities.”
“He added: Things will never be the same again and 2021 is likely to remain challenging, but we will continue to work hard to stay ahead of the curve and keep our business thriving.
“We set up our Community Cares Fund in April 2020 in response to the collective crisis our region was facing as a result of the pandemic. To kick start the fund our Co-op donated over £230,000 which was quickly added to by our generous members who donated almost £140,000 from their dividend.”
He said East of England is in a strong position to face the challenges arising from the pandemic and is continuing to invest to ensure “a vibrant future”, including the development of tech, growing its food store portfolio, and adapting its funerals division to changing market conditions while continuing to provide good care.
“Given the dedication of our colleagues and the adaptability they have shown in the last year, together with our strong financial foundation, we have the resources we need to keep us ahead of the curve,” said Mr Field.