Let’s hear if for the co-ops. In this day of aggressive tactics, a bullyboy mentality and senior executives nervously looking over their shoulders at the City bods, barely out of their teens, who call the shots, any mention of the co-operative sector is sure to warm the cockles of my heart. Its democratic principles, its decision to be first-mover in fair trade, its groundbreaking labelling strategy - all these are values inherent to the co-op retailers and ones that rivals half-heartedly attempt to copy.
But in case you think I am turning into a woolly liberal in my old age, these are not the only reasons to admire the co-ops, as this week’s issue proves.
United Co-operatives has bought Leathley’s Quality Fare (another of our Top 50 independents - I truly am beginning to sound like that stuck record from last week). And the Co-operative Group is pushing ahead with its conversion programme following its acquisitions of Alldays, Balfour and Conveco (pp4 and 6).
These are exciting businesses. Both United and the Co-operative Group have ringfenced hefty sums for further acquisition, in the latter case helped by this week’s disposal of milk processing business ACC (p7). Chief executive Martin Beaumont says: “We cannot afford to ease off the pace of acquisitions in food retailing.”
So are we likely to see another Top 50 retailer succumb in the near future? One thing is sure; the entrepreneurs on our list appear to prefer to sell to the co-ops than other multiple rivals. Of the eight companies that have been snapped up since March, four have gone to co-ops (Conveco to the Co-operative Group, Morning Noon & Night to Scotmid, and Neighbours and now Leathley’s to United Co-operatives). This says a lot about whom they believe will treat the business, and staff, best.
This latest acquisition brings the total trade lost in the privately owned retail sector to £300m. It also means Nisa has now lost the best part of £200m in business. Is this why it has appointed three new business development managers?
In the meantime, expect to hear more about the co-ops in the coming weeks. Next stop Unwins?
welcome age of the co-op