East of England Co-op has reported sales growth in its first-half results, reaching £196.5m in sales and an underlying trading profit of £3.4m.
Sales were £0.6m ahead of the same period last year – when shoppers rushed to stores for the first lockdown – although food sales alone were lower. Sales were £3.2m ahead of the 2019/20 financial year.
Doug Field, joint chief executive, said: “This year, like those previous, has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Food store sales are £6.6m (3.6%) lower than in 2020/21, where government lockdowns and restrictions led to more people shopping locally. This decline in food store sales has however been more than offset by an increase in sales from our petrol filling stations, funeral and travel businesses.
“Pleasingly, over a two-year period, our food business has seen its takings rise by almost 9% (over £13m).
“Profits are down compared to 2020/21 but this was to be expected. Our 2021/22 underlying trading profit of £3.4m was ahead of our expectations.”
Mr Field said the co-op’s travel arm is still seeing reduced demand due to government restrictions, but food stores, funerals, investment property portfolio and petrol filling stations all generated profits.
“We’ve continued to invest in our business to help fulfil the long-term potential of our co-operative, investing £5.5m in the first half of the financial year,” he added.
Investments include more than £1m on finishing the development of the society’s former Colchester department store, now called Foundation House; all 24 flats were let in just eight weeks.
Preparatory work was carried out on a future development at the former Boss Hall Dairy site in Ipswich.
The society also completed rebranding of all its petrol filling stations.
Investment in technology, includes £1.1m spent on self-checkouts, alongside development of data with a further £0.5m spent on Business Intelligence.
“To help us best utilise that data and technology, to improve productivity, efficiency and our effectiveness, we’re building our in-house capabilities through the provision of Data Analyst Apprenticeships,” said Mr Field.
He warned: “Looking ahead, we cannot ignore the supply chain issues which is impacting all areas of our business, through lack of stock for our food stores, rising costs of materials for our construction projects and reduced availability of technology components.
“We’ll continue to make a difference with the profit we generate, using it to improve the daily lives of our colleagues, members, customers and communities. There are challenges ahead but we’re working hard to maximise the long-term potential of our business.”