First of all a very Happy New Year and a special thank you to the many colleagues who worked through the holiday season. Steve Murrells will update us on trading next week but I can tell you now that all your hard work paid off – our Co-op had a great Christmas and New Year.
When I was doing my store visits on Christmas Eve the last store I went to was Appleby in Cumbria, which I also visited on Christmas Eve last year. Last year the store was recovering from flooding and we’d set up a pop-up shop in the car park. When I visited this time it was still cold and wet but our store was fully refurbished and doing a great trade. It was terrific to be able to talk to colleagues a year on and find such a successful turnaround.
I’d been in London too and heard how our colleagues were working in partnership with the London Fire Brigade to support some of the most vulnerable people over Christmas with food hampers and a full Christmas dinner. Special mention to Enoch Kanagaraj and the team from Watford who volunteered their time on Christmas Day to help make it all happen. This was ‘being Co-op’ in action once again. Read more about it here.
We also made the headlines over the holidays with our plans to open 100 new Food stores in 2017 creating 1,500 new jobs. It was the end of a year of good news coverage that reflects the momentum we now have in rebuilding our Co-op.
Final year of Rebuild
This year is the third and final year of Rebuild. We achieved a huge amount last year and we’re most definitely back!
But now we need to make sure that we’re back for good and that means all the great changes and initiatives we put in place during 2016 need to take root. A big part of that will be growing our membership.
Our target in 2017 is to recruit a million new members with at least half of them brand new Co-op customers.
We’re calling our membership recruitment campaign ‘Join us’ and it will build through the year as we tell more and more stories about what makes our Co-op different and special.
We need to go beyond the immediate Membership rewards of 5% and 1% and start to explain why being a Co-op allows us to be a different way of doing business. We intend to reach every section of the population with Co-op messages that explain why and how we care about our members and how we respond to their priorities.
We’re starting the Join Us campaign this month with new point of sale material going into our Food stores over the next few weeks. From January 20th we’ll begin a cinema and social media campaign that highlights the depth of the relationship we’re building with local communities. I’m delighted to tell you that the acclaimed British director Shane Meadows has been working with us over the last few months to create a series of powerful and inspiring short films to illustrate our work with local causes.
Shane is best known for the Bafta award winning feature film and TV series ‘This is England’. If you’ve never seen it, now’s the time to catch up on Shane’s iconic film-making.
Shane’s first film for us will air in cinemas from 20th January with exclusive screenings ahead of the new Trainspotting film which opens across the country at the end of the month.
In mid-February we’ll be on TV again with an updated Food ad that makes the connection between good Co-op food, Fairtrade, British farmers and doing good for you and your community.
Meanwhile, colleagues will be playing a key role too. Sixty ‘Member Champions’, some of whom were our BCOP ‘hosts’ last year, will be visiting stores around the country talking to our customers about membership and coaching our front line colleagues on how to start those vital membership conversations. Colleagues from the Support Centre will also be ‘Lending a Hand’ in stores but this time the emphasis will be on talking about our membership rewards.
Making a difference
In the spring we can look forward to the first round of 1% pay outs to the first 4,000 causes we’ve been supporting. We’ll be reporting on how they’re spending the money and the practical difference it’s making in their communities. That’ll be 1,000s of local stories telling the Co-op difference.
Meanwhile, as we move through the year, we’ll be talking about deepening our relationship with local communities in ways only a Co-op could achieve. We’ll also return our Co-op to leadership positions on a range of ethical trading issues.
In Food we’ll champion British farmers more than we’ve ever done before and make new commitments on Fairtrade. And all the time we’ll be growing our Food stores in every part of the country.
Our Insurance, Funeralcare and Legal businesses will all continue their transformation work setting them up for significant growth in the years to come. Digital, our newest business and support function, will pioneer new services for our members and customers and establish Manchester as a new Digital Hub for the UK.
No slowing down
As you can see there’s no slowing down of the momentum we’ve established over the last two years, and people are starting to notice the difference. Our brand ‘buzz’ score, which measures what people have heard about us, is almost back at the levels last seen before our crisis in 2013.
I expect 2017 to bring some new challenges to us and to all major businesses. Inflation, partly driven by a weaker pound and increased prices for food commodities, is on the way. And growth across the UK economy is expected to slow. That means we have to be even more competitive as our members and customers start to feel the pinch in their purses and wallets.
Our progress at the Co-op has been rapid but there’s still much to be done to ensure we can be celebrating the end of Rebuild come next Christmas.
It’s going to be another exciting and eventful year for us all and I look forward to sharing more news with you in the coming weeks and months.
Richard Pennycook, Co-op Chief Executive