THE Co-operative Group has unveiled plans for the return of the ?Co-op Divi' and also revealed a 41 per cent increase in annual operating profits to £ 327.3 million.
A dividend has always been paid to corporate members, which this year has increased 12 per cent to £ 16.7 million, but later this year it will pay a flat rate of around £ 10 to consumer members.
From 2005, the dividend will be based on the amount members spend with the group's businesses ? the first time since the ?Divi' died out in the 1960s/70s.
Across the whole group pre-tax profits were £ 385.4 million for the year to 10th January 2004 compared with last year's loss of £ 112.5 million, which was due to fluctuations in the value of CIS investments.
The Co-operative Bank results increased 6.2 per cent to £ 130.1 million. While CIS blamed "difficult market conditions" on its premium income falling to £ 1.79 billion from £ 1.95 billion in 2002.
In the group's food arm, profits rose 63 per cent to £ 113.4 million on sales of £ 3 billion, up 17.4 per cent. The Welcome convenience stores brand saw like-for-like sales increase by 3.4 per cent, about 1 per cent ahead of the market.
Non-food showed a decline in profit from £ 3.3 million in 2002 to £ 0.3 million. It said the fall was driven by commercial pressures on sales as the current department stores fall behind market standards.
Co-op Pharmacy profits grew by 21 per cent, with prescription sales being particularly strong with like-for-like sales up 8.7 per cent. Farmcare produced a profit of £ 1.6 million ? the first profit since 1997.
Funeralcare, which remains the largest funeral provider in Britain, saw profits rise by 43 per cent to £ 18.2 million.
Travelcare returned to profitability, although it said the travel market remained difficult. The acquisition of justflights.com and cheapestflights.co.uk added five call centres to Travelcare's existing network, helping to achieve its target of boosting sales through direct channels.
A reduction in operating costs at Priory Motors helped the chain achieve a 17 per cent increase in profits to £ 1.4 million.
ACC Milk produced profits of £ 5.5 million in 2003 on sales of £ 310 million, with the return to profitability helped by an improved market in liquid milk. As announced in the News in April the Co-operative Group is still standing by its statement to explore options for the sale of ACC.
Syncro, the engineering and building services operation, reported losses of £ 4.7 million for the year, although new management produced some recovery in the second half.
Martin Beaumont, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group, said: "We are making sustained progress in unlocking the potential within the Co-operative Group, and the 41 per cent rise in profits for 2003 to £ 327 million demonstrates our success.
"We maintain a highly commercial approach to running our businesses to ensure that we maximise profitability for the benefit of our members while still upholding the core values of a co-operative organisation."