The Co-operative Group

The Co-operative Group
Co-operative Group Ltd.
Type Consumer cooperative
Founded 1863 (1863)
Headquarters Manchester, United Kingdom
Number of locations 4,900 stores
Key people Peter Marks (CEO)
Martyn Wates (Deputy CEO)[1]
Industry Grocery retailing
Financial services
Travel agency
Car dealership
Funeral services
Revenue £9.4 billion (2008)[2]
Net income + £111 million (2008)[2]
Members 4.5 million (2008)[3]
Employees 123,000 (2010)[4]
Subsidiaries Manx Co-operative Society (Est. 1920)[5]

The Co-operative Group Ltd. is a United Kingdom consumer cooperative with a diverse range of business interests. It is co-operatively run and owned by its members. It is the largest organisation of this type in the world, with over 5.5 million members, who all have a say in how the business is run and how its social goals are achieved. The group comprises a family of businesses, including: Food, Travel, Financial Services, Healthcare, Funeral care, Legal Services, Motors and Online Electricals.

Membership is open to everyone, provided that they share the values and principles upon which the group was founded. Every year members receive a share of the group's profit, based on the total amount of profit made, and the amount of money they spent with the organization in that year. Its slogans are 'Good for everyone' and 'Good with food'.

The Co-operative Group has over 123,000 employees across the UK, with its main head office based in Manchester, North West England. The Co-operative Group has been based in Manchester since inception in 1863 and will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2013, by which time the Group is expected to have moved into the new £800m NOMA, Manchester development which is currently under construction.



A Co-operative Food store in the former Drighlington Co-operative Industrial Society building

The Co-operative Group developed gradually over 140 years from the merger of co-operative wholesale societies and many independent retail societies, changing from a purely wholesale operation to a major retailer in its own right.

In 1863, the North of England Co-operative Wholesale Industrial and Provident Society Limited was launched in Manchester by 300 individual co-operatives in Yorkshire and Lancashire. By 1872, it had become known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS). Throughout the 20th century, smaller societies merged with CWS, including the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society (SCWS) in 1973 and the London-based South Suburban Co-operative Society in 1984.

By the 1990s, CWS's share of the grocery market had declined considerably and the viability of the co-operative business model was put in doubt. It sold its factories to Andrew Regan in 1994 and he returned in 1997 with an audacious hostile £1.2 billion bid. There were allegations of "carpet-bagging"—new members who joined simply to make money from the sale—and, more seriously, fraud and commercial leaks. Following the employment of a private detective and a subsequent lengthy criminal court case, Regan's bid was rejected and two senior CWS executives were dismissed and imprisoned for fraud. Regan was cleared of charges. However, the episode recharged CWS and its membership base and proved to be a catalyst for rejuvenation which is continuing today. Tony Blair's Co-operative Commission, chaired by John Monks, made major recommendations for the co-operative movement, including the organization and marketing of the retail societies.

CIS Tower and New Century House

It was in this climate, following many years of aborted discussions, that CWS merged with its struggling affiliate Co-operative Retail Services (CRS) in 2000. Its headquarters complex is situated on the north side of Manchester city centre adjacent to the Manchester Victoria railway station. The complex is made up of many different buildings of different periods with two notable tower blocks, New Century House and the solar panel-clad CIS Tower. Other independent societies are part owners of the group. Representatives of the societies that part own the group are elected to the group's national board. The group manages The Co-operative brand and the Co-operative Retail Trading Group (CRTG), which sources and promotes goods for food stores.[6] There is a similar purchasing group (CTTG) for co-operative travel agents.

At the start of 2007, the Group began discussions with United Co-operatives, the UK's second-largest co-operative, on the possibility of a merger of the two societies.[7] On 16 February 2007, the boards of both societies announced that they were to merge subject to members' approval, and on 28 July 2007 the new society came into being. At about the same time, the Group transferred the engagements of the small Scottish Nith Valley Co-operative Society which, while trading profitably, was suffering a burden with its pension fund commitments.[8] In July 2008, the Group announced a deal to purchase the Somerfield chain of 900 supermarkets and convenience stores for a value of at least £1.5 billion.[9][10] The sale completed successfully on 2 March 2009, costing £1.57bn.[9]

Also in 2008, the Group purchased ten convenience stores as going concerns from competitor J Sainsbury, previously trading under the Bells and Jacksons names, in the north and east of England.[11] In Autumn 2008, Lothian, Borders & Angus Co-operative Society members voted to transfer of engagements to the Co-operative Group. The transfer of engagements came into effect on 13 December 2008.[12] The Group announced in November 2008 that despite the economic downturn, half year profits had risen by 35.6 percent to £292.6 million for the six months to June 2008.[13] In January 2009, Co-operative Financial Services and the Britannia Building Society announced their intention to merge, subject to regulatory, and member approval. Members of the Plymouth & South West Co-operative Society joined the Co-operative Group in September 2009.[14][citation needed]

The group's reputation suffered a blow in 2007 after being fined £250,000 because 38 of its 41 stores in Sussex failed fire safety inspections.[15] It was fined again in 2010 for £210,000 following an investigation at one of their Southampton stores.[16]

In May 2010, The Co-operative Group unveiled plans to build a new head office building in Manchester. The initial phase of construction of the new building has commenced at the site on Miller Street on the north side of the city centre. The project aims to reflect ethical values of the organization in its design, construction and its relationship both with employees and surrounding communities. Occupation of the new building is scheduled for mid-2012.[17]

Marketing and brands

Originally the Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited, the name was changed to Co-operative Group (CWS) Limited in 2001, following the transfer of engagements of Co-operative Retail Services in 2000. CWS Retail was formed in 1933 and demerged in 1957 as CRS, with the purpose of opening shops in co-operative deserts and taking over failing retail societies. The Group merged with United Co-operatives, based in Yorkshire and northwest England, on 29 July 2007, reinforcing its position as the largest consumer co-operative in the world.[18] The current simplified legal name of Co-operative Group Limited was adopted in December 2007.[19]

Neo-Baroque style CWS offices and warehouse, Hanover Building, Manchester, built 1907.

The modern Co-operative Group was formed from a large range of different independent societies with separate brand identities. This led to a lack of brand consistency, tending to give an incoherent message to consumers.

In 2007, the group began a full-scale re-brand of its estate with the aim of creating a unified identity. The well-known four-leaf clover 'Co-op' brand, which was introduced in 1967 and adjusted in 1993, along with those of most of its other businesses including Travelcare and Funeralcare, was phased out in favour of The co-operative strapline which unifies the group around one single brand.

With more than 4,000 stores and branches to convert to the new logo the process has been cited as the "largest rebranding exercise in UK corporate history."[20]

The Co-operative Group also launched its largest ever television advertising campaign in 2009. The unusually long two and a half minute advertisement aired for the first time during Coronation Street 's 7:40 pm ad-break on ITV. The spot, created by McCann Erickson, features the Bob Dylan track "Blowin' in the Wind", marking one of the rare occasions that the singer songwriter has allowed his music to be used for commercial purposes.


The Co-operative Food in Tilehurst, Berkshire

The Group now has 85% of the co-operative retail business in the UK and substantial shares in certain wider markets, including travel, funerals and pharmacies.


The food retail business is the largest division of the Group. It directly operates over 2,900 stores of various sizes with the biggest geographical spread of any retailer. The stores are mainly in the convenience and medium sized supermarket sector, with some larger superstores.


The group operates 450 travel agencies The Co-operative Travel is made up of what was 'Travelcare' and 'Co-op Travel'. The business also has direct sales channels through telephone, home workers and, the internet. In July 2009 the business launched their own tour operation as a joint venture with Cosmos Holidays (part of the Monarch Group). It was announced on 8 October 2010 that the business of The Co-operative Travel was to be transferred, along with Thomas Cook Group's travel agencies, into a joint venture to be owned 70% by Thomas Cook Group and 30% by The Co-operative Group; this move will create the UK's largest travel network.[21] This transfer was subsequently referred to the Office of Fair Trading as a result of monopoly concerns.[22]


The Co-operative Funeralcare is the UK's largest funeral director with over 800 funeral homes, many of which retain their private names whilst others operate under the co-operative brand.


The Co-operative Pharmacy is now the third largest community pharmacy group in the UK with nearly 800 branches. The Co-operative Pharmacy have a nationwide presence from the north of Scotland to the south of England, with pharmacies in Wales (the biggest single pharmacy chain in Wales) and Northern Ireland too.

Financial services

For many years, CWS's two financial subsidiaries were separately managed. In 2002 they were brought together under an umbrella society, Co-operative Financial Services (or CFS), which is wholly owned by the Group. CFS is made up of the Co-operative Bank, including the internet bank Smile and the former Britannia Building Society and the Co-operative Insurance Society; it has over four and a half million customers.

Legal services

Co-operative Legal Services is a national legal services provider of legal experts dedicated to widening and easing public access to legal provision. Services cover the writing of Wills, probate, conveyancing, legal assistance with accidents and personal injuries and employment law. Free legal advice is provided with these services without obligation. The group announced the formation of this new division, based in Bristol, in April 2006.[23]


The group manages over 70,000 acres (280 km2) of land across Great Britain which is providing an ever increasing number of products, such as soft fruit, potatoes, flour and cider, to Co-operative Food stores allowing the group to further differentiate itself from competitors. The Co-operative is the largest farmer in the UK.


The group maintains a property business that manages an investment and trading property portfolio.


The Co-operative Clothing design, manufacture and distribute Workwear, businesswear and uniforms for catering, construction, beauty and most other industries under their own label.

Motor Group

The Co-operative Motor Group is one of the North's leading motor traders and one of the top 50 motor dealers in the UK. The Motor Group represents ten major motor manufacturers; Renault, Nissan, Land Rover Mazda, Peugeot, Fiat, Suzuki, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.[24]

Former businesses

Former CWS warehouse by the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne.


Syncro was the rebranded engineering and building services business of the Co-operative Group, based in Salford. Syncro was sold in 2006.

Associated Co-operative Creameries

Associated Co-operative Creameries was the Group's large milk processing and distribution division. ACC also handled logistics of the retail business but this responsibility was given to a new department, Co-operative Retail Logistics, prior to sale. The division was sold to Dairy Farmers of Britain, a farmers co-operative, on 10 August 2004.

Non-food retail

The Group decided to withdraw from the department store business following many years of increasing losses, with several of the stores being acquired by the Anglia Regional Co-operative Society, and the remainder being closed. Many of the shops had been in poor locations and had suffered from years of under-investment. Initially, two stores were to be retained in Perth and Tunbridge Wells as a trial of a new style of department store but it was decided to close these in 2006.

However, the Group continues to operate a growing internet business retailing electrical goods and designer beds, as well as providing electrical buying, warehousing and distribution services to the wider co-operative movement, as many of the independent societies continue to operate in non-food retailing.


Shoefayre was established in 1959, initially known as Society Shoes. For many years it was co-owned by several co-operative societies but eventually became wholly owned and managed by the Co-operative Group. In 2006, it reported operating losses of £6 million and in 2007 was sold to rival shoe retailer Shoe Zone.[25]

Dividend and membership scheme

The idea of co-operative trading revolutionized food retailing with the dividend, often known as "divi", and the "divi number" becoming an integral part of British life. The way in which co-operative retail societies are run for the benefit, and on behalf of their members is something which sets them apart from their modern-day competitors. The dividend is a financial reward to members based on each member's level of trade with the society. The distribution of profits on the basis of turnover rather than capital invested is a fundamental difference between a co-operative and most private sector enterprise.

Historically, members' sales would be recorded in ledgers in society's stores and at the end of the collection period a proportional payment would be made back to the member. As the societies grew, and the number of members increased, the method of using ledgers became cumbersome. As a solution, some societies, including Co-operative Retail Services, started to issue stamps to members for qualifying transactions. Members would collect the stamps on a savings card and, when the card was complete, would use it as payment for goods or deposit into their share account.

By the late twentieth century the Co-operative Group's precursors and then the Co-operative Group were no longer paying true dividend (it had become a drain on limited resources), although several independent societies (such as Anglia Regional) continued to do so. In the late 1990s a loyalty card scheme, in the style of the Tesco Clubcard, was introduced which used the Dividend brand.[26] Ironically these loyalty cards were inspired by the original co-operative dividend but were little more than marketing exercises as well as a way to gather useful customer information. Co-operative customers (not just members) could sign up and receive a swipe card to record their purchases with vouchers being sent out twice a year which could be exchanged for cash or goods.

However, in September 2006 the Co-operative Group relaunched "true" dividend whereby a proportion of the profits of the Co-operative Group are returned to members. To emphasize the change, the scheme is now called The Co-operative Membership and members earn a "share of the profits".

New members are recruited by allowing them to deduct the refundable subscription for a £1 share from their first dividend. Members can collect points to increase their share of the profits by using the services provided across the whole family of businesses.

In 2008, the dividend almost doubled to £38 million, equivalent to 2.63p per point (one point being earned for each £1 food purchase), reflecting an 8% increase in underlying profit.[27]

Group membership increased sharply in the first year after the relaunch, to 2.5 million with many more young people being attracted to join who have an affinity with the co-operative values and principles.[4][28][29]

In 2007, the Oxford-based Midcounties Co-operative joined the Group's membership scheme allowing its members to earn dividend at Co-operative Group stores and vice versa. It was also the first independent co-operative to adopt the new Co-operative branding. Since then, other independent co-operatives joined the reciprocal membership dividend scheme, including Anglia Regional Co-operative Society (2008), Southern Co-operatives (2009), Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society (2009) and Midlands Co-operative (2010).

Executive Remuneration

The Annual Report cites a number of factors in determining executive pay, including "attracting, retaining and motivating senior Executives of the appropriate calibre to further the success of the Group" and "ensuring that the interests of Executives are aligned with those of the Group and its members".

CEO Peter Marks was paid a basic salary of £900,000 in 2010, with a performance-related bonus of £449,000. The basic salaries of the thirteen executives adds up to £4,071,000, with their bonuses adding up to £2,121,000.[30]

Co-operative practices

Seal of the Co-operative Wholesale Society.

As a co-operative, the Group places importance on ethical and transparent trading and reporting, and democratic accountability and participation. Retail trading areas are overseen by Area Committees of about ten to twelve members, which have annual elections and meetings for all members.[31] These elect members onto regional boards, which also meet annually to report to all members in the region. A national board includes directors elected from regional boards, plus representatives of other societies, the corporate members. Individual stores may have member forums also. Unlike a pure consumer co-operative, voting rights are shared between the corporate members and the individual consumer members, as described in an annual report:

Voting for corporate members is in proportion to trade with the Society. Each individual member has one vote in the appropriate region of the Society and each region has voting rights calculated on the same basis as a corporate member.[32]

As the UK's largest co-operative, the Group plays a key part in the co-operative movement. It is also a major sponsor of new co-operative ventures, local initiatives through Co-operative Action and Fairtrade promotion.

Political ties with the Wider Cooperative and Labour movements

The Co-operative Group, as the largest retail business in the UK Cooperative movement, is also the biggest affiliate supporter of the Co-operative Party, which fields Coop candidates in UK national, regional and local elections on joint tickets with the Labour Party, its sister party. In addition to core aims of furthering Cooperative values and Mutualism in Parliament and on the national stage cooperative party members, activists and representatives (MPs,MSPs,AMs and Councillors) also campaign on wider social issues, including the most recent "The Feelings Mutual" campaign. In addition The Co-operative Group facilitates, takes part in or owns services provided for other UK Consumer Cooperative Societies, supports community concerns and project and runs ethical and social campaigns/advertising and events which correspond to the interests and values of the democratic Society and the wider community.

List of corporate members

As of 2011, twenty-two independent consumer co-operatives are corporate members, in other words customer owners, of the Group. They invested share capital to found or join the Group's wholesaler predecessors, such as the North of England Co-operative Wholesale Industrial and Provident Society and the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. As noted above, these co-operatives are represented alongside the regional boards at annual meetings and in the board of directors, and are entitled to dividends based on the amount of their purchases from the Group.

Society Website Founded Members Activities

(number of outlets)

Allendale Food retail (1)
Anglia Regional 1876[33] 216,102 Food retail (29), Funerals (22), Travel (11), Non-food retailing (35), Petol retailing (11), Opticians (3)
Chelmsford Star 1867 52,937[34] Food (36), Non-food (2), Travel (2), Funerals (6)
Channel Islands 1919 Food (16), Non food (3: two 'Homemaker' stores and one 'Totalsport' store), Travel (2)
Clydebank 1881 Food (6), Non-food, Funerals, Post Offices
Coniston 1896 Food (1)
East of England 1858[35] ≈350,000 Food (133), Non-food (14), Travel (12), Funeral (30), Pharmacy (8), Optician (3), Motors (3), Jewellery (2), Education Centre (1)
Grosmont (North Yorkshire)[36][37] 1867[38] Food (1)
Heart of England 1832[39] 179,657[40] Food (33), Non-food (21), Funeral (9), Travel (3), Post Offices (4)
Hawkshead[41] 1881[42] Food (1)
Food (1)
Lincolnshire 1861[46] 149,247 (2007) Food (71), Bakery (majority-owned), Pharmacies (29),[47] Coffee shops (6),[48] Non-food (4),[49] Post offices (41),[50] Travel (9),[51] Funeral (9),[52] Motors (2), Filling stations (11), Cash registers
Midcounties Food (147) Funerals (69) Travel (41) Pharmacies (44) Motors (12) Nurseries (6)
Midlands Food (160)
Penrith Food (10), Non-Food (1)
Radstock 1867 Food (11) Non Food (1)
Scotmid Food (129)
Seaton Valley Food (1)
Shepley Food (1)
Southern Food (108) Funerals (16)
Tamworth Food (14)
Wooldale Food (3)

Achievements and criticisms

  • In 2002 the society gained Worldaware's 2002 Shell Award for Sustainable Development for its use of Fairtrade goods.[53]
  • In 2007, the society won a Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category, in recognition of its business practices, including its pioneering stance on Fairtrade and the environment.[54]
  • In January 2010, the society appeared on the shortlist for the Transform Awards for rebranding and brand transformation in a number of categories [55]
  • A recent Which survey claimed that the Co-operative was the least favourite grocer with only 46% satisfaction among customers. This is compared to Waitrose which achieved 85%.[56]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Interim Report 2009" (pdf). pp. 7. 
  3. ^ "Press release: Co-operative Membership". The Co-operative Group. 
  4. ^ a b "Press release: Merger delivers strong profit growth, preliminary results". The Co-operative Group. 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "About Us". Co-operative Retail Trading Group. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  7. ^ "Co-op boards back merger plan" (Press release). Boards of the Co-operative Group and United Co-operatives. 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  8. ^ "Mutuals Public Register, Nith Valley Co-operative Society Limited, number 2325RS". Financial Services Authority. Retrieved 2008-07-15.  (as of 2008)
  9. ^ a b BBC NEWS | Business | Co-op buys Somerfield for £1.57bn
  10. ^ "Co-op Group bids to buy Somerfield chain". Co-operative News. 2008-04-17. "The Co-operative Group has confirmed for the first time that is trying to buy the Somerfield chain of food stores in a deal worth at least £1.5 billion." 
  11. ^ "Co-operative Group buys 10 c-stores from Sainsbury's". Talking Retail (Nexus Business Media). 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  12. ^ "Transfer announcement". Lothian Co-op. Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  13. ^ Members' payout 2008
  14. ^ Plymouth & South West Co-operative Society
  15. ^ "Co-op fined over safety breaches". BBC News. 2007-09-19. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ About the project
  18. ^ Top UK co-ops agree merger terms BBC News, 17 February 2007 03:29 GMT
  19. ^
  20. ^ The Co-operative – a super-brand to watch
  21. ^ Co-operative Travel to form Thomas Cook venture Co-operative News, 12 October 2010
  22. ^ Thomas Cook and Co-op Travel merger faces OFT probe BBC News, 7 January 2011
  23. ^ "'Co-operative Legal Services venture launched'". Money News. 2006-04-21. Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  24. ^ Co-operative Motor Group
  25. ^ Atherton, Jayne (2007-09-11). "Business Bites". Metro: pp. 41 
  26. ^ Christian Cull (25 Oct 1997). "National rollout for CWS reward card". The Grocer. Retrieved 3 Dec 2009. "The card which has been on trial since May 1996 ­is unique in that it awards cash payments rather than credit points." 
  27. ^ "Bumper double dividend of pounds 38m for members of Co-operative Group". Birmingham Post: p. 21. 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2008-06-29. 
  28. ^ "Press release: Co-operative Membership smashes three million barrier". The Co-operative Group. 2008-08-05. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  29. ^ "Co-operative Group sees surge in younger members". Talking Retail (Nexus Business Media). 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  30. ^ The Co-operative Group, 'Building a Better Society: Annual Reports & Accounts 2010', p. 57
  31. ^ Area Committees
  32. ^ "Annual Report 2007" (PDF). The Co-operative Group. p. 113 note 31. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  33. ^ As Peterborough Equitable Industrial Co-operative Society
  34. ^ (PDF) Annual Report and Financial Statements. Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society. 2007-01-27. pp. 5. Retrieved 2008-01-11 
  35. ^ As Norwich Co-operative Society
  36. ^ "Grosmont". Co-op Online Directory. Co-operatives UK. Retrieved 2008-08-12. [dead link]
  37. ^ "Grosmont Co-operative Society Limited". Synergy arm of Co-operatives UK. Retrieved 2008-08-23. [dead link]
  38. ^ "Grosmont Co-operative Society Limited, number 992R". Mutuals Public Register. FSA. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 
  39. ^ As Lockhurst Lane Industrial Co-operative Society
  40. ^ (PDF) Annual Report and Financial Statements. Heart of England Co-operative Society. 2007-01-20. pp. 8. Retrieved 2008-01-11 [dead link]
  41. ^ "Hawkshead & District Co-op Society Limited". Retrieved 2008-08-12. [dead link]
  42. ^ "Hawkshead and District Co-operative Society Limited, number 2242R". Mutuals Public Register. FSA. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 
  43. ^ "Langdale and Neighbourhood Industrial Co-operative Society Limited". Synergy arm of Co-operatives UK. Retrieved 2008-08-23. [dead link]
  44. ^ "Langdale & Neighbourhood Industrial Co-op Society". Shop directory. Village Retail Services Association. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  45. ^ Website not accessible August 23, 2008. See at the Wayback Machine (Latest Internet Archive version is October 2006 [1])
  46. ^ "History: 1864". Lincolnshire Co-operative. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  47. ^ "Lincoln Co-operative Chemists Ltd Publication Scheme" (PDF). Lincolnshire Co-operative. p. 3. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  48. ^ "Coffee Shop". Lincolnshire Co-operative. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  49. ^ "Home". Lincolnshire Co-operative. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  50. ^ "Post Office". Lincolnshire Co-operative. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  51. ^ "The co-operative travel". Lincolnshire Co-operative. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  52. ^ "Funeral Arrangements: Our Funeral Homes". Lincolnshire Co-operative. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  53. ^ "2002 Shell Worldaware Business Award". Worldaware. Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  54. ^ "Winners 2007". Queen's Awards for Enterprise. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  55. ^ "Shortlist announced for the Transform Awards for rebranding". Communicate magazine. January 2010. 
  56. ^ "Which Survey 2011". Which. February 2011. 


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