Champagne moments enjoyed by Co-op over Christmas period

SHOPPERS with a taste for bubbly put some festive fizz into a bullish Christmas trading update from The Co-operative Group.

The strong performance will be seen as a vindication of the retail strategy pursued by Bradford-based chief executive Peter Marks, who received a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List.

Mr Marks has been credited with leading a revival of the co-operative movement.

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The Co-operative Group said underlying sales grew at its food stores over the three-week Christmas period, buoyed by sales of Champagne, seasonal produce and desserts.

The group, which is owned by more than six million consumers, posted like-for-like sales – including VAT but excluding fuel – up 2.2 per cent in the three weeks to January 5 compared with the same period last year.

In the three weeks ending January 5, total sales in Co-operative food stores, including VAT but excluding fuel, grew by 2.4 per cent on the corresponding period last year.

The group’s convenience stores did particularly well, with like-for-like sales up 5.5 per cent over the same period. The stores received a boost from targeted promotions and an advertising campaign.

In a statement, the Co-operative Group said: “These results follow a similarly positive performance in 2011, which means that, on a like-for-like basis, Christmas and New Year sales have grown by over five per cent in the past two years.

“The strong Christmas trading came on the back of improved underlying performance in the food business during the second half of 2012, and in particular within the final 13 weeks of the year, during which total food sale (including VAT, but excluding fuel) were up 0.6 per cent year on year and up 0.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis.”

Mr Marks said: “These results represent a really encouraging and resilient performance in some of the most testing trading conditions for 40 years and build on a good result achieved over the same period last year.

“The figures also helped to sustain the positive sales momentum we have seen in the second half of this year, and while conditions remain very challenging, we now enter 2013 in a position where we expect to make continued progress.

“Against a difficult economic envirionment, customers were keen to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with their friends and family.

“By continuing to focus on quality and value, The Co-operative, with our stores conveniently located in their communities, helped them do just that.

“It is thanks to the hard work, focused promotions and fantastic customer service of all our colleagues, together with great support from our dedicated suppliers, that another set of strong results has been achieved.”

The Co-operative Group has 312 stores in Yorkshire.

A Co-operative spokesman said yesterday: “Trading over Christmas was strong across the board, the performance in Yorkshire was in line with what we saw throughout the rest of the estate.”

Christmas Eve was the busiest day of the year for the food business, with takings of more than £35m.

Mr Marks is to retire in May after 45 years working within the Co-operative movement. He has spent the past six years as chief executive.

He created the UK’s fifth largest player in food retailing when the Co-op bought rival supermarket chain Somerfield. Mr Marks joined what became Yorkshire Co-operatives in 1967, as a management trainee in the food retail business.