The Midcounties Co-operative is targeting investment and growth for its travel division next year.
The society, which is owned by its 700,000 members, reported a 15% growth in its food retail sales to £352 million during the 26 weeks ended 25 July, boosted by increased demand for take-home groceries during the pandemic.
Its healthcare and funeral operations – which include high street pharmacies, online GPs and funeral services – also saw strong growth as the businesses adapted to meet increased demand in a challenging environment.
These helped deliver an operating profit before significant items of £7.45 million for the half year.
Midcounties’ travel division reported a 78% decrease in like-for-like sales in the first half of the year, but more than 40% of its customers opted to re-book for next year, and its latest research indicates that six out of ten of its members intend to holiday abroad in 2021.
The society transferred in 16 travel branches from Central England Co-operative in July and acquired seven from Carrick Travel earlier this month.
It also appointed Neil Hardy as head of omni-channel development in August, with an initial focus to support the development of tour operator brand Co-op Holidays, and investment in its digital channels.
Phil Ponsonby, group chief executive, said: “This year, perhaps more than any other, we have seen the benefits of operating diverse businesses across a number of different regions and sectors.
“Despite the challenges we have faced in the travel sector, the resilience of our other businesses puts us in an excellent position to capitalise on the eventual bounce back of the travel market.
“We have taken on 23 new travel branches this year, taking our total to 78 sites across the UK, and we work with more than 150 home-based personal travel agents plus a growing consortium of independent agents.”
He continued: “Like all businesses in the retail travel sector, we have had to make difficult decisions to protect our people, customers and ensure the future viability of our operations.
“But as a diversified group, we have been able to take a long-term view and make strategic investments that have strengthened our position. We will continue to look at investment and acquisition opportunities in the travel sector that complement our existing business.
“We are currently working hard to offer our members and customers a compelling range of travel options for 2021, with the peace of mind that they can book with confidence in uncertain times. The benefit of being a co-operative is that we enjoy high levels of trust and loyalty, which is a major asset.
“The support we are getting from partner travel operators has been exceptional and we are looking forward to working together to create opportunities during the peaks period and throughout next year.”