New look

East of England Co-op has made great strides in introducing new products and expanding on its existing campaigns, promoting a more sustainable approach towards recycling, food waste, and energy consumption

Describing 2019 for East of England Co-op, Joint Chief Executive Officer – Roger Grosvenor – says that the year has been one of “significant change and refocus.” While its core businesses – Property, Food, Funeral, Travel, and Security – have remained the centre of attention, the company also effected the decision taken in 2017 to close its Ipswich distribution centre, fully joining the National Integrated Supply Chain run by Co-op Retail Logistics, part of the Manchester-based Co-operative Group.

“Our Property portfolio is showing encouraging growth, with over 500 commercial investment and residential properties,” Roger begins, before updating us on the current success of the organisation. “Key expenditure during the year has been directed mainly towards two main projects – a housing development in Woodbridge, Suffolk and a former department store in Colchester, Essex.

“We have extended our Funeral Services to a further 31 communities, taking us from 34 branches to 65, while our fledgling Security business ‘Co-op Secure Response’ has seen growth beyond expectation, 39 per cent ahead of budget. The service we provide is bespoke, with alarms and CCTV being supported by a state-of-the-art Alarm Receiving Centre monitored 24/7 365 days a year. Despite operating in a volatile sector, our Travel division is growing too, at a 4.6 per cent rate, with plans to next year refurbish our branches across Suffolk and Essex.”

We are now going to focus on East of England Co-op’s Food business, which has benefitted from considerable investment in refurbishment and expansion, and is now entering the last stage of a major refurbishment programme it has been working on over the past couple of years. “It was in 2015 that we decided to refresh our food stores and we set out to put in place two specific store ‘formats’ – standard and premium. The latter is applied mainly to our larger stores, providing a completely different ambience and a significantly increased range. We’ve refurbished 16 branches this year, with the remaining 16 scheduled for completion by mid-2020, so, next year, we will have all of our 122 stores operating to the same high standard,” Roger points out.

Sustainability programmes
In line with global trends, East of England Co-op’s refurbishment scheme is being delivered with sustainability in mind. An example of this, is their determination to reduce the stores’ energy consumption. “In our stores, we use the latest energy efficient technology, including LED and motion sensor lights, intelligent heating controls and energy efficient refrigeration,” comments Roger. “We’ve also introduced Electric Vehicle charging points at a number of our stores and head office. Whilst solar panels fitted to several of our stores generated just under 58,000 Kwh/yr last year – the equivalent of 16.41 tonnes of CO2.”

For quite some time now, East of England Co-op has taken a tough stance against food waste, launching a series of initiatives. Over the last 12 months, the business has extended its ‘Co-op Guide to Dating’ campaign, where it offers items past their ‘Best before’ date at the price of 10p, by adding frozen and fresh foods to the initiative, resulting in an annual total of 350 tonnes of edible food being saved from landfill.

Battery recycling and soft plastic wrappers recycling are two other areas that have been identified as potentially suitable for the implementation of sustainable solutions. In order to test the viability of such propositions, East of England Co-op has recently extended a trial, introducing 40 recycling bins into its larger stores to take back batteries, carrier bags, and other 39plastics that cannot be recycled through local council collections.

“The bins have been well-used and it is even the case in some stores that they have to be emptied more than once a week,” Roger expresses his satisfaction with the initial stages of the trial. He adds: “As it stands, battery recycling has seen the biggest increase, mainly due to the fact that this is now more visible to the customer as an option. We’ve also looked inwardly on our own operations, increasing our mixed dry recycling across the entire business saving 1800 full black bin bags a month from going to incineration.”

Green schemes
Discussing the next steps East of England Co-op will take, should the trials prove successful and meet the organisation’s expectations, Roger reveals: “We will be keen on expanding the large bins into further locations with suitable space. However, our main focus is now placed on finding a replacement carrier bag to our Bag for Life, which is both commercially and sustainably viable.

“We have recently introduced our first refill station, at our Framlingham Supermarket, enabling customers to refill their existing bottles of popular cleaning products from Ecover, including laundry liquid, fabric conditioner, all-purpose cleaner, and washing-up liquid,” Roger goes on. “We’re also trialling shampoos and soaps, which are environmentally-friendly and do not contain SLS or parabens.”

Consumer trends
It is no secret that the food industry is kept alert on the rise of the free-from and plant-based types of products, which, over time, may change the business landscape significantly. In Roger’s opinion, the sector is set to grow significantly over the coming years: “Even though only one per cent of the world population is vegan, there is an increasing trend for consumers to have a vegan day once a week. In response to these developing consumer trends, we have launched 26 new lines from four suppliers (Mama K, V Bites, Frys, and The Brook) that are offered for sale in our deli aisles, giving them extra prominence within our stores.”

As a co-operative, owned by over 280,000 colleagues, customers and local residents in the East of England, they are also focused on delivering against four community campaigns. Voted for by their members, who each have an equal share and say in the business, the East of England Co-op is committed to helping to combat food poverty, improving the understanding of food waste and recycling, support the challenges of an ageing population and creating a positive environment for young people to thrive.

Taking care of its customers and members’ needs and the shift in their demands will continue to be a priority for East of England Co-op both in 2020 and beyond. Roger explained: “We are currently seeing 1.8 per cent like-for-like growth within our Food business despite increasing competition, and we are confident that the work undertaken to refurbish our stores and increase product range will help us achieve an even greater increase in sales.”