The Co-operative Group is finalising plans for a new generation of Welcome stores as the current crop has spearheaded growth in both turnover and profitability of its food business.
Unveiling profits up 63% to £113.4m on sales up 17.4% to £3bn in the year to January 10, chief operating officer for retail Malcolm Hepworth said the current Welcome format had been groundbreaking when it was launched six years ago.
“But other retailers have copied many of the innovations. It’s time to take the next step.”
He said lessons learned during the refurbishment of the Alldays and Balfour stores acquired by the co-op would be
incorporated into new trial stores before the end of the year.
Hepworth said that the refurbishment programme was on target with 171 Alldays stores and six Balfour stores converted to the Welcome format with completion at a total cost of £200m scheduled for 2006.
The society has been highly acquisitive in the c-store sector, and was ready for any more opportunities that arose, said Hepworth. He said none of the Safeway stores Morrisons must dispose of were of interest, and refused to comment on whether he was a bidder for Londis.
However, the society’s larger stores depressed overall performance and the group has continued to dispose of them. It sold four more during the year, reducing the total to 22. Hepworth said he could envisage a future in which the society would have no stores over 25,000 sq ft.
The society also reintroduced its dividend paid to members from its profits. Members will get £10 this year and from 2005 it will be based on their spending in store. The dividend is in addition to the cash back customers earn from purchases using their divi card.
John Wood