BRITAIN'S biggest independent co-op is set to announce a massive increase in food sales when its financial year ends next month.
In contrast with a generally flat retail sector, United Co-operatives has told the News that sales growth in its Food Group is on course to reach 11 per cent.
And United's Food General Manager, Tim Hurrell, said that in the all-important convenience store sector, like-for-like sales are also showing strong growth with a figure of 3.2 per cent being achieved, against the industry average of 1.7 per cent as calculated by the Institute of Grocery Distribution.
Said Mr Hurrell: "United provides excellent proof that, with the right strategy and approach, co-operatives can still be a major force in the food business.
"Since the merger with Yorkshire Co-op in 2002 that created the present United, we have made great strides with continuing growth in both sales and profit, despite fierce trading conditions and an increasingly competitive retail environment."
Mr Hurrell added that United's return on capital employed – at around 12 per cent for the Food Group – was well above the level set by the Co-operative Commission of ten per cent. It was also considerably better than most major competitors.
Mr Hurrell says United plan to buy a considerable number of additional stores in 2006. He commented: "The final figure could be very high if an outstanding opportunity comes along."
United's acquisitions in the last 18 months have included the Quality Fare and Neighbours chains, as well a number of stores, mainly former Safeway outlets, purchased from Morrisons.
In total United has acquired 63 stores, including petrol stations, in the last 18 months.