UNITED Co-operatives has announced record sales and profits for the 11th year in a row.
Following 12 months of aggressive acquisition, profit before distributions rose 23.1 per cent for the year ended January 22 to stand at £ 43.7 million, compared with £ 35.5 million the previous year.
Sales rose from £ 1,671 million to £ 1,883 million – an increase of almost 13 per cent – and, for the first time, the society's trading profit hit the £ 50 million mark; 21.3 per cent higher than the previous period's figure of £ 41.3 million.
At the same time, the Rochdale-based society, whose interests span the Midlands, North Wales and North of England, plus a major funeral operation in Northern Ireland, revealed plans to spend at least £ 200 million on acquisitions and developments over the next three years. This follows expenditure of £ 110 million in 2004.
Said Chief Executive Peter Marks: `United continues to move forward at an impressive rate, demonstrating that organic growth and growth by acquisition are both vital components in our success.
`Two and a half years after the creation of the new United Co-operatives, through the merger of the former United Norwest and Yorkshire societies, our results are showing that a new and powerful co-operative business force has arrived on the scene.`
United, the UK's largest independent co-op – has five core businesses, all of which contributed to the society's success during the year. In the Food Group, the number of stores exceeded 500 for the first time and sales passed £ 800 million.
Travel, the most diverse business of its kind in the UK, achieved sales of £ 496 million, up 12 per cent on the year before.
The society's Sunwin Motor Group doubled in size, principally through the acquisition of dealerships in the East Midlands from Ilkeston Society.Â Sales in the Group were up 76 per cent at £ 259 million.
Healthcare, consisting of two pharmaceutical wholesalers and 128 community pharmacies, dispensed more than 10 million prescriptions for the first time and achieved sales of £ 131 million, up nine per cent.Â The Group also announced plans to expand into Yorkshire, where it is currently not represented.
Funeral Group increased sales from £ 34.7 million to £ 35.5 million, an increase of 2.3 per cent.
Capital expenditure reached a new record of £ 110 million, with major acquisitions in United's food, travel and motor businesses.Â Despite the significant investment, gearing was down to its lowest level for 14 years, at a very manageable 27.9 per cent, demonstrating the society's underlying financial strength.
Towards the end of the year, United announced that it no longer regarded Department Stores as a core business.Â An agreement was reached with Anglia Society, whereby it purchased seven of the stores, while eight others will continue to be operated by United until a solution for their future is found.
Mr Marks added: `There is no doubt that, in all our business sectors, there are national and international factors which mean that we will have to fight hard to maintain our progress. However, we are in a very strong position financially, with an excellent board and management team. We are determined to maintain our progress and to emphasise our co-operative difference.
`2004 was another record year for United Co-operatives and this year has also started well, with sales ahead of last year and budget.Â There is clearly much of the year still to go, but 2005 looks like it will be another successful one.`