Store front

Source: Central England Co-op

Brexit, the HGV driver shortage and Covid sickness were all factors in the food sales decrease

Food sales at Central England Co-op dipped 3.4% to £667.6m for the year ending 22 January 2022.

CEO Debbie Robinson said the decline was primarily a result of events that occurred in the second half of the year, such as the easing of restrictions and hospitality businesses reopening, meaning demand for its goods and services declined.

Combined with the “significant challenges” on product availability brought by Brexit and the pandemic, the HGV driver shortage and Covid sickness, food sales were “heavily impacted”, she said. 

The business’s response was to source goods from alternative suppliers to fill any gaps, as well as improve its local product offerings. Local sales increased by 23% over the past year. It also upped the number of concession partners it had, such as Nutmeg clothing and the Original Factory Shop. 

The business has a whole, however, including its petrol filling stations and funeral business, still managed to bump up sales by 0.7% to £875m. It also increased operating profit from £21.1m to £23.2m.

Its capital expenditure of £21.5m also allowed the business to open three new stores, relocate one to a larger premises, and regenerate 41 sites through its regeneration programme, changing the store layout and product ranges to improve the customer shopping experience. These new stores and regenerations now include self-scan checkouts, access to home delivery of goods and click & collect services.

The business also pointed to its ongoing partnerships with FareShare Midlands and over 65 local food banks as a key society highlight. This saw hundreds of thousands of meals provided for children, who might otherwise go without, and thousands of vital emergency food parcels given to families.

Its 136 good causes and charities also shared £170,000 from its Community Dividend Fund.

“Looking ahead, there are significant challenges facing the convenience sector including new rules governing the way we market items to customers that are high in fat, sugar and salt from October 2022 as part of the government’s strategy to tackle obesity,” added Robinson.

“This is a real opportunity to encourage and support customers to eat better. Inflation has reached a 30-year high, which will impact on our cost base and households will face considerable increases in the cost of living. Therefore we expect to see a significant threat to both household spending and business profitability.

“We have great people throughout our society and I would like to thank each and every colleague for their commitment and hard work. Together with our members and board, we will meet the challenges ahead, we will continue to invest in our biggest asset, our people, in the delivery of our purpose of creating a sustainable society for all.”