The Central England Co-operative, which employs thousands of staff across the region, has reported a rise in profits.
The co-operative, which has 8,600 staff and operates 400 trading outlets, says profits rose by five per cent to £19.8 million in the financial year 2015/16 compared with £18.8 million in the previous year.
Trading conditions in the retail sector continue to be challenging with food and fuel price deflation having a major impact.Martyn Cheatle, chief executive
However, gross sales came in at £844.7 million - down three per cent on previous year, according to the society’s annual results, which cover the year January 23, 2016.
Chief executive Martyn Cheatle said: “Trading conditions in the retail sector continue to be challenging with food and fuel price deflation having a major impact.
“Against this backdrop, the society has delivered a solid business performance, and reduced its liabilities, building an even firmer foundation for its continued growth strategy.
He added: “As one of the largest independent co-operatives in the UK, our society has continued to make major investment in its ethical point of difference and it is pleasing to see such a wide range of these activities receiving recognition during the year.
“Although pressures on the retail sector will continue in the coming years, we are confident that our clear business strategy will ensure our continued success, both financially and ethically.”
As part of its growth strategy, the society, which runs 200 food stores, funeral services, petrol stations and has trading interest in travel shops, coffin manufacture and optical services, invested £29.5 million in 10 new food stores, four new funeral homes and refurbishment across the business.
The society’s annual report also states that its 330,000 members and employees and communities received a share of a £4.7 million pay out - slightly down on the previous year’s £4.9 million.
Net debt fell to £8.4 million from £21.3 million in 2014/15, driven by strong cash generation, cost control, lower capital investment and planned property disposals.
The society expects to achieve sales of £958 million in its next financial year.
Society president, Maria Lee, said: “Our strategy remains focused on optimising the society’s point of difference as a strong, member-owned, member-controlled, co-operative business.”
She said strengthening links with members and local communities was at the heart of the society’s strategy, supported by the co-op’s membership and Community Councils.
A change announced last year saw more than 6,000 front line store colleagues receive an 8.5 per cent pay increase over two years.