Firstly, I want to say a massive thank you to every colleague across the Food Business for the momentous effort which has gone in over the last 18 months. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved together for our colleagues, our customers and our members. It’s been an extremely challenging time for us but thanks to all of you, today we’ve been able to set out a really great set of interim results.
Our first half performance
It’s been well reported that the UK supply chain is dealing with many challenges including driver shortages, sourcing raw materials for production, new ways of working post Brexit and the ongoing challenges of Covid as we all work to return to normality.
Whilst we’ve not been immune to these challenges, we have traded well across our three routes to market: retail, wholesale and online across the first half. In the same period last year, we were experiencing the peak trading from the first lockdown in March where members and customers flowed to convenience before the market shifted slightly to online in the autumn. You’ll see our total and like-for-like sales are down however we expected to see this, and we knew 2021 would be a tougher year than 2020. Positively, our two-year growth remains strong, and we continue to see growth each month in a challenging market.
Investing in future growth
We continue to deliver against our Closer strategy by investing significantly in our infrastructure in the first half of this year to support our future growth.
We have continued to roll out our new SAP software solutions to all ambient product categories to improve ranging, stock holding, availability and forecasting over our IT systems. We also remain on track to open our newest depot in Biggleswade. By January 2022 we’ll have transformed the 660,000 sqft space into our largest regional distribution centre, handling over two million cases of frozen, ambient and fresh products a week supporting growth in London and South-East.
In April, we aligned pay for 33,000 frontline colleagues with the Real Living Wage, where it wasn’t already, and in July we moved our stores to a three-tier management structure as part of our Fit for Future programme. We have created new roles to retain talent, given colleagues protected terms and were able to offer alternative positions to all colleagues affected.
Expanding our reach and getting closer to what our customers need
We’ve also invested in continuing to grow across our three routes to market: growing and refitting our current retail estate, recruiting new wholesale customers, and expanding our amazing online services.
Today, we’ve announced an exciting trial with Amazon which will give Amazon Prime customers in Glasgow the ability to do their full Co-op grocery shop, on the same day, through the Amazon platform. We’ll also be expanding our partnership with Starship robots into more locations.
We are also focused on looking at our products and services inside our stores which includes our expansion of both our Honest Value and plant-based range GRO.
After a pause last year due to the pandemic, we also re-launched our festival stores this year which have been loved by colleagues and customers alike!
Getting closer to what our customers care about
Showcasing our values through our products and services is still at the heart of our Co-op so I was absolutely delighted with the launch our pioneering ten-point climate plan earlier this year. In it, we announced that we’ll be the world’s first food retailer to produce carbon neutral own brand food and drink within five years and the first to match our plant based GRO range against equivalent meat products. Further to this, 15 years ago we were the first retailer to launch certified compostable carrier bags and this spring we went a step further and rolled out across our estate, and bags for life removed.
We’ve also launched our new soft plastics recycling scheme. So far, we have reached 1500 stores and we’ll continue the roll out over the autumn and winter months. This initiative is part of our efforts to reach 100% own brand packaging recyclability and create a recycling process that is easy and accessible for our customers.
Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities
We’ve continued to work hard to make our communities and shops a safer place. We’ve continued to invest in things like intelligent CCTV, body cameras, product security, training for all colleagues. We’ve also been working with MPs, unions and other retailers to get new legislation that increases the penalty given for violence towards a retail worker. In January, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the Protection for Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Bill which creates a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker and offers further protection when the worker is carrying out their statutory duties, such as age-restricted sales.
We want the same protection in place for all retail colleagues and have been continuing our campaign in the first half of 2021. In June, colleagues, members, customers and suppliers sent over 25,000 letters and emails asking the Government to support a similar amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We’re hopeful that we’ll make progress on this in the coming months.
I’m really excited to see what the rest of 2021 will bring, and wanted to say a huge thank you once again to every single one of you for continuing to do what matters most, supporting each other, and caring for our customers.