UNITED Co-operatives has announced plans to spend around £ 100 million in the next year on acquiring and building new stores and refurbishing existing outlets.
The ambitious investment programme was revealed just a week after the society reported record results in the wake of the 2002 merger with Yorkshire Co-operatives.
United say their £ 100 million ?war chest' is aimed at ensuring that the £ 1.7 billion society continues its ten year record of turnover and profit growth.
Chief Executive Peter Marks told the News: "Over the past year we have been consolidating the benefits of the merger which created United Co-operatives in September 2002.
"The annual results reported in last week's News clearly show that these benefits are being reflected in all parts of the business. The challenge now is to keep our ten years of progress going for the next ten. To do that we need to invest heavily in extending and developing the service we offer to members and customers.
"The main focus of our development plans will be our food, travel and car dealerships, but there will also be capital investment in our healthcare, funerals and department stores operations.`
"We already have exciting plans to build around a dozen new food stores in the next year or so and are also seeking to acquire other businesses. On top of this investment, we plan to refurbish and upgrade around 50 of our existing food stores."
Added Mr Marks: "With the recent acquisition of the Merseyside-based cruise holiday specialist CSI, we have already started the investment in our travel business and I am confident that more will follow in the coming months.
"Over the coming year we plan to double the size of our successful Sunwin Motor Group by acquiring businesses within our traditional trading area and, where opportunities arise, beyond that."
Mr Marks confirmed that the coming year would see significant investment in new till systems in the society's pharmacies and department stores, with further investment in facilities in its funeral branches.
He said: "Over the next year we will continue to see the benefits of our consolidation activities, but the main focus will be on acquisitions, new builds, refurbishments and infrastructure investment.
"It is an old adage in retail that if you are standing still, you are really going backwards. In contrast, over the past decade, we have been continuously going forward and our £ 100 million war chest will ensure that progress continues for many years to come."