Trade comment from John McNeill

John McNeill Co-op Divisional Managing Director

Regional operations director at The Co-operative Group tells Neighbourhood Retailer what 2018 has in store for the Co-op

2017 was a phenomenal year for the Co-op for a number of reasons. Having increased our store footprint by 100 stores across the UK, we finished 2017 on a high by being named Convenience Retailer of the Year at the Retail Industry Awards in September. Christmas trading was the cherry on the top of a great year as we doubled sales growth over the festive period and saw a 6.2 per cent jump in like-for-like sales.

Community is right at the heart of the organisation and over the course of the last year we were able to reach our goal of donating £20million to 8,000 local causes across the UK as part of our membership scheme. We now have 50,000 members across Northern Ireland and every purchase on own brand items generates five per cent back into the customer’s pocket with one per cent going to a local charity. Since the launch of the scheme we have paid out £120,000 to 90 good causes across the region.

Our community involvement is what makes us fundamentally different from any other business and I am especially proud of our employees and all of the additional work they put in. At Christmas, stores across Northern Ireland donated over £10,000 to Cash for Kids ensuring 11,000 children received a present on Christmas day. This wasn’t an initiative that was outlined by head office, but was something that the individual stores came together to do, which I think says a lot about our employees and their dedication to improving their local communities.

In Northern Ireland the convenience sector is more competitive than in other areas of the UK but it is also more progressive. In a lot of ways this region leads the way for certain elements of convenience retailing, in particular the food-to-go sector.

2017 was not without its challenges and both the retail and convenience sectors are extremely competitive. The secret to overcoming this is to be agile and respond to customer’s needs in whatever way you can. Getting the range of products right for smaller stores can be a difficult task but we have invested heavily in the co-op brand and the quality of that is unsurpassed.

We are delighted to be flourishing in the convenience sector and in the following year we aim to further imbed our stores in their communities whether this is in urban Belfast or more rural parts of the community. We also would like to increase our presence in the food retail market and one of the ways we might do this is through the wholesale sector. We are committed to expanding our business and giving customers increasingly more access to co-op products. Hopefully 2018 will lead the way to opening more doors for the Co-operative Group in Northern Ireland.

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