Preliminary results for the 51 weeks ending January 2nd show that gross sales increased by 31 per cent from £10.4 billion to £13.7bn and the underlying profit rose 20 per cent to £473 million in the wake of the Somerfield takeover and Britannia’s decision to merge with Co-operative Financial Services.
Mr Marks says it is no wonder the co-operative business model is being noticed by the main political parties in the run-up to the general election and warmly welcomes the increased attention.
Said Mr Marks: “Our business has continued to thrive in spite of economic pressure, and I am pleased to report that we are on track with the integration of both Somerfield and Britannia. We have stayed true to our core principles and we continue to do what we do best: serving customers with excellent products and services, and bringing solid values and trust to the communities in which we operate.
“Our food business continues to go from strength to strength with trading profit up 31 per cent to £286 million. We now run almost 3,000 community food stores and have a store in every single postal area in the UK, bar one! Each week, we serve 21 million customers. We are the retailer best placed to deliver great savings to customers, without the need to travel to big superstores.
“Our Financial Services business has also continued to flourish in spite of the global recession. It is no coincidence that our business model is in vogue with the mainstream political parties who see consumer and employee-owned co-operatives as a potential solution to some of the issues faced by the public sector. This is great news and I wholeheartedly welcome it.”
But Mr Marks warned that if plans proposed by the politicians are to work, they must be underpinned by what he called “an unswerving commitment to investing in the people who can deliver the renaissance that public sector services so badly need”.
He said: “Without the right leaders, managers and staff to drive change, and create first class businesses, the benefits of co-operative ownership will be lost. I am keen to ensure the Group plays its part in fostering new forms of co-operative ownership, and where better than within the world of education. We are supporting Co-operative Academies in Manchester and Stoke to help develop the creative talent of tomorrow.
“This is part of a wider vision of ours to broaden the involvement of parents, pupils, teachers and the community in the provision of education through the establishment of Co-operative Trust Schools which we expect to number 200 by the year end.”
In his review of 2009, Mr Marks said that in addition to the Somerfield and Britannia developments, the Group had launched its brand advertising campaign and had continued with the ongoing transformation of its entire estate. “Taken individually, each of these events would mark a significant change for any business,” he explained. “Taken together, they demonstrate that 2009 saw the greatest change to the business, in its entire history. It is to the credit of everyone involved that our new and existing customers now view the Group as a totally revitalised business.
“The Co-operative is once again a respected brand on the high streets of the communities in which we operate. We have taken the Big Four grocery retailers and created the Big Five, and we have created the UK’s first ‘super mutual’ in financial services.”
But Mr Marks warns the impact of the recession will ensure “choppy waters” ahead and predicts that economic pressure on the Group’s family of businesses will continue until the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011.
“Sustaining the level of success we have enjoyed over recent years will not be easy,” he added. “All our businesses are operating in fiercely competitive markets which will only get tougher. So we will be redoubling our efforts to help our customers by providing even greater value and service.”