In his speech to Congress, Mr Marks said the biggest capital expenditure programme in the Movement’s history will see over 4,500 outlets rebranded by the time the programme is complete.
“For the first time ever, this will give us the opportunity to demonstrate to customers that we really mean business,” he declared. “I am delighted to say that the confidence which exists in the new brand within the Group is being increasingly shared by other societies.
“Already since last year’s merger we have seen Lothian, Borders & Angus Society, along with Anglia and Plymouth & South West societies, join the brand project and I am hopeful more will join in due course.”
But several major societies including the biggest independents — Midlands and Scotmid — have not signed up and Mr Marks commented: “To those who have yet to join, I would say only this. By early next year we will be in a position to go for a national launch of the new brand. I can guarantee that we will be putting a huge amount of effort — and a fair amount of cash — into this launch and I want you to benefit from it, just as much as I want the Group to benefit.
“One clear indication of the power of the new brand is the 20 per cent increase in sales in our rebranded food stores. In the current climate, these are truly impressive figures and reflect the real change the brand is helping bring about with consumers.
“So please think carefully before deciding to go your own way. The benefits to be gained from adopting the new brand are huge and I don’t want any society or its members to miss out on those benefits.”
Mr Marks told Congress the merger of the Group and United had been a “fantastic success” and that a £1.5 billion three-year plan was now in place which had the potential to transform the Group and the Movement.
But he warned that, as a result of the depressed economic climate, which he predicted would be around for some time, further mergers within the co-operative retail sector were inevitable and desirable.
He said: “I believe the merger has put the Group in a far stronger position to survive and prosper in the worsening economic circumstances. However I also believe these challenges will increase the pressure for further consolidation over the next few years.”
Turning to the proposed acquisiton of the Somerfield chain, Mr Marks said good progress was being made and that he remains optimistic of a successful outcome to the Group’s bid. He said: “We have the financial capacity and business confidence to take on this massive opportunity. The Board, our management and employees, and our members, also have the desire to take this on and to make a success of it.
“The acquisition — if it comes off — will establish a clear, strong fifth player in the food sector, with a market share not far behind Morrison’s. It will also mean we will have achieved our three-year acquisition plan in one massive step. That in turn will set us back on-track to drive up our food market share to where it was 20 years ago and will give us a fantastic springboard for further growth.”