Cook store staff

Source: Cook

Cook opened it’s ‘landmark’ 100th store in Poynton Cheshire

Ready meal brand Cook is eyeing more stores and concessions as it looks to build on what CEO and co-founder Ed Perry described as a “suspiciously good” year for the business.

Last week, Cook opened what was its “landmark” 100th store in Poynton, Cheshire and could “easily do another six to 10 per year” over the next five years as part of the next stage of its expansion plan, Perry told The Grocer.

“That’s what we’ve got in mind at the moment,” he said. “There’s huge areas of the country where there still isn’t a Cook.” 

The B Corp would continue to look for “secondary locations” like high streets. However, a major new focus of the new rollout would be on smaller-scale retail parks. Over the past two years Cook had opened four new stores on retail parks, which had performed “better than expected” Perry said.

“We see retail parks as a rich seam for future expansion, so we’re excited about those,” he added.

Perry credited the success of the chain’s new store strategy as being behind improved performance of its store estate, with new figures released by the business indicated sales have grown 16% to £109m in the 11 months since the publication of its last set of annual results in March, Cook didn’t initially provide volumes, however.

A real change for Cook had been the growth of its online business since the pandemic, which had helped to drive custom at stores through click & collect and home delivery, Perry said. Around 25% of Cook’s sales now come online, compared with a “small percentage” before Covid, he said.

“When we open new shops, we can be really confident they are going to achieve higher sales levels then they did previously,” he said.

Alongside the store rollout, Perry envisioned Cook adding a further 150 concessions with independent retailers each year, with approximately half of those to be with national accounts through the likes of regional Co-ops, Budgens and garden centre chains. The brand celebrated the opening of its 1000th concession with Brixton-based The Black Farmer in December

It also continues to experiment with vending machines in sites like hospitals, offices and now – as revealed by The Grocer last week – railway stations, with the aim of having up to 40 by the end of the year.

“The key thing for us is to have a growth plan that is calibrated with our manufacturing. Ninety-three per cent of what we sell in shops, and 100% of what we sell in concessions, we make ourselves.

“We’re such a vertically integrated business. If we try and grow too fast then the quality wheel might fall off,” Perry said.

Value campaign had encouraged shoppers to visit more

Cook had also benefited from the impact of a value campaign rolled out across the business over the past 18 months. It has included the introduction of special ‘Promotional Freezers’ in store, which contain weekly a 20% discount on a selection of two to three rotating products.

It has also introduced a series of permanent multibuy promotions on specific categories like low-calorie or kids’ meals.

The business had “never really” had a specific focus on value in the past, but the cost of living crisis had “forced” Cook to look at value in a different way, and at the importance of giving customers “obvious value”, Perry said.

“We’ve found by just doing that – by having a relatively deep discount on a couple of products – it’s helped to drive frequency of purchase,” Perry said. “It’s worked miles better than we thought it would.

“While we haven’t got any plans to extend those at the moment, never say never. Customers like them and they work for the business,” he said.