Co-op plans c-store expansion as group returns to profit

The Co-operative Group today revealed plans to open around 100 new convenience stores as it returned to profit after a disastrous few years.

The UK’s largest mutual business has revealed it made a profit of £124m in 2014 compared with a loss of £255m the previous year. It said its food had performed “robustly”, with same-store sales in food up 0.4%.

The Co-op has begun a three-year plan to steady the business after deep problems emerged in 2013 with its bank, which it has since largely sold off.

In the past year, it has sold its pharmacy chain (to Bestway, which has rebranded the chain as Well) and farms, raising £216m.

Chief executive Richard Pennycock said the organisation had made good progress reducing its costs, which had fallen from £176m to £146m and it had also cut its debts from £1.4bn to £808m.

Co-op Group chairman Allan Leighton (former Asda boss and the son of a Co-op store manager) told the BBC that the business had strayed: “We lost the heart of what the Co-op was. I mean look at what’s happened to the Features > Business, it’s terrible.

“The Co-op did used to stand for something and it was in the community, membership was important. Co-operation was important, but we’ve had unco-operation, we should have been called the unco-operative. Because that’s the reality of where we’ve been.”

To this end, he said, the retailer would be concentrating on convenience. In the last year, the group added 82 convenience stores and refurbished more than 700 stores. It plans to expand by adding another 100 outlets this year and refurbishing another 255. Leighton said the group would dispose of 75 larger sites.

Last year, the Co-op recorded a net loss of £2.3bn, once one-off losses relating to its bank and its then-owned Somerfield business were taken into account.

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