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Central England Co-op provides COVID-19 update & annual results

Central England Co-op has just provided a detailed update into its response to the Coronavirus pandemic as part of the publication of its annual results.

The Society, which operates over 400 food, funeral, floral and travel sites across 16 counties, has revealed the impact that leading the way for its communities during the coronavirus outbreak has had on the business.

This comes as it announced strong results, to 25 January 2020, despite operating in a competitive and uncertain retail sector.

The retailer has had to make major changes across its families of businesses in response to the impact of the coronavirus. This has included:
• Implementing social distancing and hygiene measures to keep colleagues and customers safe including installing 1,000 plastic screens and providing 7,000 face visors.
• Launching an online community hub to communicate to customers and Members about vital messages
• Recruiting over 1,000 extra colleagues to help in stores, including support from across its other businesses in travel, floral and head office, and employing an extra 150 security guards
• Launching a 10% discount and priority access for NHS staff and rewarding colleagues for their hard work 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 these efforts have ensured all of the Society’s 394 food stores, petrol stations and funeral homes remained open throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Executive Debbie Robinson (pictured) 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.”

In terms of its annual results, major milestones included 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%.

Financial highlights include:
• Gross sales up by 2.7% to £893m, with trading profit of £17.5m which was ahead of budget
• Operating profit jumped from £11.9m to £15.5m
• Capital expenditure of £22.1m saw 10 new food stores, 18 refurbishments during the past 12 months

Robinson added, “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.'

Robinson concluded, “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.”