Central England reports annual operating profit of £15.5m

‘We will continue to invest in new stores together with a major refurbishment programme’

Central England Co-op has announced its results for the year to 25 January, with its operating profit rising to £15.5m (previous year, £11.9m).

Gross sales have risen by 2.7% to £893m; trading profit fell slightly to £17.5m (previous year, £18.1m) but is ahead of budget.

Capital expenditure of £22.1m saw 10 new food stores, 18 refurbishments and two new funeral sites open during the past 12 months, the society adds.

The food business grew sales to £743m (previous year: £728m); funerals saw a slight drop in sales to 4£0m (previous year: £42m). The travel business grew sales to £49m (previous year: £42m).

It says members, colleagues and communities benefited from the successful performance by sharing in a £3.2m dividend pay-out. 

Other major milestones include the rollout of a new community store format with a range of features including free water refills, indoor and outdoor seating and even specialist dog stops and the reduction of its carbon footprint to 61%115 good causes and charities shared £180,000 from its Community Dividend Fund.

The society’s community work saw 275,000 items donated to local food banks.

Its first ever Christmas Toybox Appeal saw 12,000 presents and stocking fillers shared between 20 local organisations, while the society’s corporate charity partnership with Dementia UK, launched in 2017, hit the £1.3m fundraising mark.

Other achievements included campaigning for an end of violence and aggression towards colleagues and its pioneering food redistribution project with FareShare Midlands ensuring millions of items of unsold food does not go to waste

Chief executive Debbie Robinson said: “The first half of the year was steady with an uncertain economic environment due to Brexit, a Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the funeral market and a Financial Conduct Authority review of the sale of pre-paid funeral plans.

“Global, social and economic challenges including climate change and terrorism, along with a continually competitive market, continued to impact all of our businesses.

“The second half of the year saw significant improvement particularly in our food business and this strong trading saw the Society outperform sales in the overall convenience market.

“Over the coming year we will continue to invest in new stores together with a major refurbishment programme aimed at improving our best-performing existing stores.”

Elaine Dean, society president, said: “The board is acutely aware of the uncertain times we will face as a result of the impact of coronavirus.

“At the same time we are always determined to demonstrate our unique co-operative difference for our members and communities. 

“We firmly believe that the current environment has clearly shown that the values and principles of co-operation are as relevant today as they have ever been.”

The report outlines work done by Central England Co-op in response to the Covid-19 crisis. This includes social distancing and hygiene measures such as the installation of 1,000 plastic screens and provision of 7,000 face visors.

The society also launched an online community hub to communicate to customers and members about vital messages; recruited over 1,000 extra colleagues to help in stores, including support from across its other businesses in travel, floral and head office; launching a 10% discount and priority access for NHS staff and rewarding colleagues with an extra week’s pay; working with local councils to get food to the most vulnerable, donating over 60,000 items to food banks and supporting long-term partners Dementia UK and FareShare with significant donations.

All of the society’s 394 food stores, petrol stations and funeral homes have remained open throughout the pandemic.

Ms Robinson said: “Our frontline colleagues have shown outstanding commitment and resilience in helping communities access food and vital essentials and supporting those who have lost a loved one during this global pandemic.

“Our priority has been to protect our colleagues, Members and customers and to provide vital support when they need it most.

“We have also supported our communities in the most meaningful ways possible.

“By coming together and showing each other care, compassion and respect our communities and our society will emerge stronger out of these uncertain times.”