Ali Kurji, Chief Executive of the Heart of England Co-operative Society

Monday, September 21, 2020


  • Investments made throughout the year reach £12.8 million
  • Value of fixed assets rise by 21 per cent to £72.4 million
  • Group turnover rises by 3.6 per cent to £76.9 million
  • Food sales increase by 4.5 per cent like-for-like

The Heart of England Co-operative Society has reported a satisfactory year of trading during a challenging 2019.

The Society, which operates 35 Food stores and 15 Funeral homes, made investments of almost £13 million in a year which saw deep economic uncertainty through Brexit, the elections and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The retailer also saw its turnover rise to £76.9 million in the 52 weeks to January 18, 2020 – up 3.6 per cent from 74.2 million the previous year.

The Food Division recorded sales increases of 4.5 per cent over the period – against a backdrop of changing customer habits and increased competition from the multinationals and discounters.

In his report, Ali Kurji, Chief Executive of the Society, said the rise was a pleasing result – particularly when the previous year’s sales had been helped by the Beast from the East cold spell followed by a hot summer.

Throughout the last year the Society completed a series of major investments. In January it opened a £1.8 million purpose-built Food store in Burbage, near Hinckley, part of the new £4.5 million Sketchley Brook Retail Development – also owned by the Society.

The Food Division also branched into the Solihull area for the first time with the opening of a new £2.1 million Food store at Hockley Heath.

Both Sketchley Brook and Hockley Heath Food stores are performing above budget.

Last August the Society opened a £2 million, purpose-built Food store in Rotherham Road, Coventry.

Since its opening the store has continued to build sales and is expected to continue building sales going forward.

Other projects undertaken by the Food Division throughout the year included refurbishments at New Bilton, in Rugby; Attleborough Green, in Nuneaton; and Southam, near Rugby.

The Society has introduced a whole host of new ranges across its portfolio of stores. These include Cook frozen foods, vegan products and American confectionary.

The Society has also implemented Local @ Heart – a new scheme giving local producers an outlet to sell their products.

Food To Go has been expanded to include well-known brands including Costa Coffee, Lavazza Coffee, Rollover Hot Dogs and Slush drinks.

The Funeral Division recorded a 4% fall in sales over the period. The fall is in line with other funeral service providers and follows falling death rates in the Society’s trading area and nationally.

Investments during the year included a new funeral home at Towcester in Northamptonshire and the recent opening of a new funeral home in Southam.

Sales of carrier bags over the year raised more than £27,000 for various charities in the Society’s trading area, while the corporate charity scheme, in aid of Zoë’s Place Baby Hospice, raised £19,500.

Society membership, which had been reviewed to sift out dormant accounts, now stands at 157,000. All members benefit from the new Member’s Reward Card which offers a two per cent discount in the Food Division. By the end of the financial year members had earned more than £189,000 of rewards.

In the report Mr Kurji said the business once again continued to operate with no borrowings.

He said: “Increasing sales levels, whilst carefully controlling costs, remains the best way to achieve a consistent growth in profits and in the long term maintain our Society’s outstanding level of success.

“We intend to continue with our strategy of renewing and expanding our businesses and the cash reserves we have built up will enable us to continue to do this without the need for any external financial assistance in the short term.

“In spite of the pressures we intend to maintain our unique position in the heart of England by building our reputation as one of the UK’s leading retail co-operatives by continuing to develop profitable trading activities and maintain community friendly initiatives and policies.”

He added: “In spite of the uncertain economic outlook ahead we remain optimistic about our Society’s future prospects as one of the leading independent regional co-operative societies.”

In his report Mr Kurji said since the outbreak of Covid-19 the Society’s main focus had been protecting colleagues and continuing to provide an unrivalled service. He paid tribute to colleagues across the Society for their continued hard work throughout the pandemic.

He said: “All the Society’s Food stores and Funeral Homes have so far remained open and trading throughout the coronavirus outbreak. The Board of Directors and Management Executive Team are immensely appreciative of the hard work, dedication, commitment and the extraordinary efforts of the Society’s colleagues, especially those working at the front line in our Food stores and Funeral business.

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