A WIDER recognition of the benefits of convenience store shopping helped United Co-operatives to a bumper Christmas with the society's c-store sales up by almost eight per cent on the previous year.
Britain's biggest independent co-op reports excellent results across all its businesses, with travel, pharmacies and its internet-based electrical goods operation all doing well.
The improved Christmas and New Year performance will contribute strongly to United's full-year results, said Chief Executive Peter Marks, and is continuing proof of the benefits of the September 2002 merger with Yorkshire Co-operatives.
Trade in United's 424 convenience stores was particularly strong in the week before Christmas, with fresh foods and beer, wines and spirits the big sellers.
Tim Hurrell, United's Food Group General Manager, explained why more shoppers gave the multiples a miss around Christmas.
He told the News: "For many customers, the convenience and personal service of local stores far outweighs the stress of travelling out to the superstores ? and Christmas is a time of year when shoppers want as much convenience and as little stress as possible.
"The retailing Jonahs who predicted doom and gloom at Christmas should have visited our stores to see how wrong they were."
Leeds Co-op also reported a big increase in its convenience store sales over the festive period with Chief Executive Alan Gill saying: "Prices on many key items over the Christmas period were as good as ? and in some cases better than ? those at massive superstores. I'm glad to say this helped us to a 7.5 per cent volume sales increase during the festive season.
"Shoppers are increasingly recognising that convenience stores can offer them just as much value for money as larger stores."
It was a similar story at Midlands Co-op with food sales up just over three per cent on the previous festive period, though this figure does not include the 30 former Alldays stores acquired from the Co-operative Group during 2003.
Added a Midlands spokesperson: "This successful result has been achieved despite a number of multiple competitor superstore openings, which impacted on our business."
Other festive high points at Stoke-based United Co-operatives included a 50 per cent rise in cruise holidays for the society's subsidiary, Barrow Travel; a 46 per cent increase on electrical goods purchased via the website: www.coopelectricalshop.co.uk and retail pharmacy sales up by 6.1 per cent.
The Co-operative Group's festive trading figures were unavailable as the News went to press.