Regional retailer back in the black despite 'challenging' year

East of England Co-op shopping aisle

East of England Co-op is celebrating a return to profit Picture: ANGLIA PICTURE AGENCY - Credit: Anglia Picture Agency

An East of England retail chain has bounced back into profit after a tough year.

East of England Co-op boss Doug Field said the resolve shown by staff had been “staggering” as the retailer revealed pre-tax its profits rose by £9.3m in 2021/22 to stand at £7.6m. It followed a loss of £1.7m in the previous year.

The independent grocery chain – which is based at Wherstead, near Ipswich, and operates 230 outlets across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex – said the turnaround was down to an increase in the value of its investment property portfolio and not having the one-off costs seen in 2020/21.

Its underlying trading profit was £1.5m – which was lower than expected after a “challenging” year which saw disruption to the supply chain in its food stores in late 2021, it said.

Turnover also dropped by 0.3% as customers’ grocery shopping habits returned to normal after the national lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Although food sales fell in 2021/22, they were 5.9% higher than in pre-pandemic 2019/20.

The decline was partly offset by a 50% sales boost at the chain’s petrol filling stations. The co-op’s funeral arm also saw a 1.2% rise in the number of funerals taking place while income from investment properties rose. Its stonemasonry business, H L Perfitt, saw sales of more than £2m – an 18.3% rise.

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Joint chief executive Mr Field said: “It’s been a much tougher 12 months than we anticipated due to factors outside of our control. However, the resolve shown by our colleagues in dealing with the challenges we’ve faced has been staggering. They deserve all the credit for our positive impact in the region.

“Despite it being a challenging year, we’re pleased to have recorded a growth in pre-tax profits and increases in sales across our investment property, petrol filling stations, funeral and stonemasonry businesses. Overall, we are ending the 2021/22 financial year with a strong balance sheet and sound finances, and we have the funds and resources to continue to invest in growing our business. We will also continue to work hard to improve the daily lives of our members, communities, customers and colleagues. The success of our co-op is based on this foundation, and we’ll continue to support our communities through these changing times.”

Last year, the retailer awarded more than £200k worth of grants to local voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations through its Community Cares Fund and donated more than £22k to 25 foodbanks across Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk.