POPPING to the Co-op for a few groceries is pretty typical for a lot of us.

But those relatively small-sized shops for daily essentials are doing the retailer no harm at all.

Latest figures show the East of England Co-op saw a mammoth 30 per cent growth in profit in the last year - its 150th of trading.

Profits increased across their food, funeral and property businesses to a total of £5.6 million.

This also spelled good news for the retailer’s owners - its 281,000 members - whose funds increased by £12.1 million to £224.6 million.

So how did it do it?

Doug Field, joint chief executive, said: “The success of recent years is in part due to making sure we have the right stores in the right place.

“While this led to a small number of store closures in 2018, we continue to look for new food store opportunities.”

Mr Field said people being able to access the shops easily in their communities and its focus on being a convenience retailer also helped to set it apart from big supermarkets.

Weather did play a part in boosting food sales at its 122 shops by 2.2 per cent last year.

Cast your minds back to when the Beast of the East brought snow to many areas and spurred shoppers to stock up on basics.

The summer proved another boost with barbecue and ice cream weather - a boost for the Co-op which has many stores in coastal towns and villages.

Mr Field said: “One of the real benefits we have as being at the heart of communities, is people were able to walk to our stores.”

But Mr Field said modernising many stores and upgrading how they order stock also helped.

A new computer system not only helps staff at each store predict what specific items are needed but where they should be placed to optimise sales.

The Co-op employs a total of 4,300 people in full and part-time roles.

Funeral Services have also expanded, despite a fall in the UK death rate, perhaps another testament to the brand’s community, colleague and customer-focused ethos.

One example of this strategy is the Co-op’s Sourced Locally line, launched in 2007 and which has continued to rise with more than £18 million of products sold in 2018.

It was founded following the discovery South American asparagus was being sold in stores just miles away from fields full of the British crop.

After partnering with local farmers, the Co-op sold a staggering 33,000 bundles in the first season.

It now works with more than 100 supplier partners who stock stores with 3,500 different products from fruit and vegetables, jams and chutneys, to meats, fish, pies, fruit juices, wines and even cleaning products and charcoal.

Many fruit and vegetables are picked to order and are often on sale in stores on the same day.

Mr Field said the Co-op would continue to develop its Guide to Dating initiative to save more edible food from going to landfill. He said: “We have now introduced fresh and frozen lines to the hugely successful scheme, which has seen over 200,000 items saved from going to waste.”

Another successful continuation will be its apprenticeship programme which has seen 100 per cent retention rates.

Many graduates have gone on to higher level education and management opportunities within the business.

To date, 27 staff have graduated from their apprenticeships and a further 49 are on programme, which offers levels from retail team leader to senior leader.

The East of England Co-op’s property investment business has also continued to see success, with rental income nearing £8 million per year from more than 450 residential and commercial properties.

It still owns a vacant unit in Colchester’s Long Wyre Street, home to department store Townrow between 2011 and 2014. There are imminent plans to redevelop it to attract new tenants.

Mr Field said: “We hope to have flats, shops and restaurants there in 12 to 18 months.”

He said the focus would be on smaller scale shops.

Following a relaunch in 2018, the chain’s security business, Co-op Secure Response has also grown.

A dedicated Alarm Receiving Centre, at the Co-op’s head office in Wherstead, near Ipswich, monitors CCTV across all branches.

Mr Field said it was conceived out of putting employee safety first, but is now also being used by other businesses across East Anglia and the United Kingdom.

He said: “The development of our security business Co-op Secure Response will continue. We anticipate this becoming a significant cornerstone of our business in the future. “

But what cannot have gone unnoticed is the number of cash machine raids at Co-op stores in 2016 and 2017.

Mr Field said the development of the ARC was not specifically in response to this.

He said: “We have always had security and these professional gangs are difficult to protect against.”

Fortunately the timings of the raids have meant shops have been closed at the time so there have been no staff working.

Mr Field said: “We will continue to run Co-op as it should be run; working for our communities, customers and colleagues.

“With a strengthened estate, dedicated colleagues and healthy balance sheet, we have much to look forward to.”