2023 Annual Members' Meeting
At our Annual Members’ Meeting, we encouraged questions from our members.
We have compiled all the questions received before the event, during the ‘question and answer’ session and in the comment boxes.
We have combined questions where they shared one theme and added context where needed.
Answers correct as of 14th December 2023.
Food - products
Why can I no longer buy a six-pint plastic bottle of milk – only four-pint ones available in Saxilby, Skellingthorpe and Birchwood?
We're a convenience retailer and most of our customers and members come in on a weekly basis to top up their shop. The size of our stores is reflective of this, and means that we have to be selective when it comes to stock and the amount of choice we’re able to offer.
Milk is an item that we identify as an essential staple for many people, so we do offer a good range. However, a six-pint bottle takes up far more space than the smaller sizes, so we have taken the decision to remove it from sale. We are continually reviewing our range to ensure we meet the needs of the community we serve and try to meet the needs of the majority.
Our freezer filler deal is a popular one. Over time, the price of the products that come into this deal have inflated and some time ago, we had to increase the price to £6. Despite this, we believe the deal still offers amazing value and we continue to see high demand for it.
We have seen the cost to buy milk fluctuate over recent years. This has meant we are no longer able to offer that 2 for £2.20 deal. Our buyers try and get the best price possible, but in a volatile market it is difficult.
Our buying group does not have this in their network, so we cannot put it into our stores. We understand this is due to a combination of reasons including the volume of product available and the country of supply. We do sell celery sticks though which we hope suits most customers.
If I want to, I can buy several types of Japanese sushi at my local co-op store, yet I cannot buy far less exotic items such as brown flour or cranberry sauce. Why is this? I think that Lincolnshire Co-op should ensure that basic food items are readily available in its stores. Otherwise, shoppers will go elsewhere for them and could end up doing their whole shop elsewhere.
We are a convenience retailer, and many shoppers visit our stores looking for food on the go – that includes items like sushi. We want to offer a range that meets the needs of our communities, and if you are unable to find what you are looking for when visiting one of our branches, please let us know so that we can look into it.
How often do you review your 'free-from' sections within food stores? As someone with food allergies it can be a bit of a restrictive diet. Are you looking into extending your range? Are there any plans to increase your vegan range?
As with many of our ranges, we are dependent on our buying group and what is available.
Most of our stores are smaller, convenience format outlets and have limited space.
We try to give each store a free-from and a vegan offering but we do have to balance this with lower demand and issues around food waste. It’s worth bearing in mind our bigger stores get larger ranges.
You offer a 25p discount for members buying a Costa Coffee, but there is no notice to this effect. Also, you could offer 10 to 15p to non-members, this would cut down on single use containers and rubbish in areas local to your stores.
We offer members 25p extra dividend onto their dividend cards when they use a reusable cup at our Costa Express machines. We should have signage in place promoting this offer – we will check this so we can make sure it is in place in all stores.
In terms of offering non-members a discount, this would be more logistically challenging as it would have to be money off their purchase. We also want to focus our resources on extra benefits for our members
Can a more obvious indication be given in future promotions where an alcoholic drink is part of an offer that a soft drink option is also available, and stock of that soft drink is available?
Where meal deals include soft drinks as an alternative to alcohol, this is indicated on the shelf edge advertising and on the yellow shelf edge price labels. If you are unsure, please ask a member of the store team. All offers are subject to availability, products may be substituted if unavailable.
The Co-op sells disposable vapes. Are these disposable vapes (which contain lithium batteries) able to be put in the battery recycling boxes in store? If not, why isn’t there a separate disposable vape collection bin in each shop that sells them? Even better – stop selling disposable vapes!
Disposable vapes cannot be placed into the battery recycling boxes as this could contaminate the battery waste due to the other components within them. We do take back single-use disposable vapes under the Waste Electrical and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) scheme when a new disposable vape is purchased from us. This is then disposed of through our waste contractors for recycling.
The takeaway sandwich wrappers commonly sold as part of the meal deals are marked 'Recyclable/Recycle'. However, they are plastic lined, and it is necessary to remove the plastic lining to recycle the cardboard outer. As a challenge can a member of the board demonstrate how this is easily achieved? If not, why are the packets marked recyclable/recycle when they are clearly not?
Our sandwich range is supplied to us via our buying group. The plastic lining is included for food safety and hygiene. This packaging is standard across many retailers and can be recycled once the materials are separated.
Food - stores and services
Why don’t you close on Boxing Day so colleagues can enjoy Christmas? How come you've decided to open New Years Day?
Our team do a great job during the festive period and we’re really grateful for their efforts. We know that many people value our stores being open on bank holidays, especially because we serve many rural communities. We’re a convenience store retailer and shoppers appreciate being able to pop to our nearby stores for essentials.
We do balance that with the wellbeing of our colleagues and in the main, our stores are staffed by those who are happy to work on these days. To fill shifts on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, we will ask for volunteers in the first instance. We do normally fill the shifts this way as some colleagues do like to have alternative days off during the period.
Our focus is on our reduce to clear policy, which sees food getting close to its use by date being reduced significantly to both prevent food waste and give our customers a good deal. This has reduced the amount of waste food by a significant amount, around 37%, in its first year of operation.
We are exploring ways we could work with community organisations and food waste reduction tools in the future to further reduce waste.
Sadly, giving food to colleagues presents several logistical issues, so that is not an option we are exploring.
We are a successful co-operative, running over 220 varied outlets across a wide trading area.
We record solid trading results which mean we can share our profits with our colleagues, our members and our communities by providing employment, developing new services, paying dividend, investing in the local area and our numerous community support schemes.
But, to ensure we can do that in the long term, we have to be a successful business and recognise when an outlet or service would be better suited to another type of trading model, such as at the two stories in Grimsby which were transferred to alternative operators.
We are continually reviewing our trading outlets on that basis.
We have opened new services this financial year – four new food stores (Skellingthorpe Road in Lincoln, Barrowby, Bilsthorpe, Warsop) and a new pharmacy (Winterton).
We have plans to open new food stores in a variety of locations in 2024 including two in the Grimsby area – Laceby and Scartho - as well as a food store in Coates near Whittlesey.
In the Scunthorpe area, we have two food stores, two pharmacies, two post offices, and one funeral home.
We are constantly on the lookout for opportunities in the local area, and if a site became available that met our criteria, we would investigate expanding our services in Scunthorpe further.
Would you consider building a small convenience store similar to the one near Lincoln bus station in Gainsborough town centre, perhaps in conjunction with the new cinema development?
We opened Corringham Road in Gainsborough quite recently, and the response from the community so far has been really positive.
We are constantly on the lookout for new sites, and if an opportunity were to arise in the local area that met our criteria, we would be interested in expanding further in Gainsborough.
We've also invested in a software package that is going to help us find suitable sites and collate data that will assure us that we are making a strong investment for our members and the business.
My local co-op - Churchill Drive in Newark – is threatened with closing. It is a wonderful resource, has helpful staff that care about its customers as friends. Can you tell me what factors will decide whether it is saved or not? What will happen to the staff?
We are continually reviewing our trading outlets.
We were exploring transferring Churchill Drive Food Store and Post Office to another retailer.
It currently is not on the market while we look at a range of options with the intention of sustaining the service within our business for the community.
You are looking to increase the number of stores, are existing stores being forgotten about, if they have not recently received investment?
We do have a rolling refit programme which encompasses all our food stores. The timetable is planned to consider many different factors. For example, some outlets have equipment – such as fridges – which must be replaced at certain times.
Colleagues in a number of food stores have Quail headsets which connect them to other members of the team. These have been introduced for colleague safety, as they can be a deterrent to offenders and link colleagues in different parts of the store. They are also useful to allow members of the team to communicate.
We do ask our teams to use them only when needed and to be mindful of our customers’ needs – we will remind them of this.
When your Crowle store was refurbished a little while ago, the tills were changed. The digital text on these is much smaller than on the previous tills, making it difficult for customers to read. Could you please comment on this?
The digital text on our old tills only showed one item at a time, which allowed the text to be displayed larger on the screen. However, our new tills list multiple items, enabling our customers to see each item they have purchased. Although this does mean that the text shown is smaller, many customers prefer this, as it helps them to keep track of their spending and check that they have everything they need.
We have considered accessibility when making this change, but if you do have difficulty reading the screen, please let one of our colleagues know – they are happy to answer any queries.
Why are Sutton Bridge store prices often more expensive than Long Sutton store which is just down the road ?
Numerous factors go into deciding prices in each store. One consideration is the cost of running that particular outlet – that’s why you’ll see a difference in cost between certain stores. We offer lots of great deals in our stores, such as our frozen meal deal and low prices on fruit and veg. Our pricing structure does however reflect the fact we’re a local convenience retailer rather than a big national chain. We also, as a co-op, recycle our profits back into the local community and pay dividend to our members.
During Covid, we put screens in place for the safety of colleagues, members and customers. We were planning to remove them, however, due to feedback from colleagues and our communities, we are currently keeping them in place. This is due to a range of reasons – safety, hygiene and cleanliness.
We will continue to review this.
Has any further consideration been given to Lincolnshire Co-op pharmacies recycling tablet/pill packaging (as previously raised at last year's meeting)?
We have enquired about the suitability of this scheme for our branches, particularly those that do a lot of weekly medication boxes. Unfortunately, the cost to operate such a scheme is prohibitive. We would also have to ensure that there are no tablets left in the blisters and our teams do not currently have the capacity to do this. This is something that we continue to keep under review.
The board is required to approve the appointment of both the CEO and Group Secretary. This rule is set out in the society's rulebook under rule 33A, subsection three. The rulebook is available to view on our website.
Age is not the determining factor. It is the length of term that you serve - generally there is a nine-year rule for directors.
Do you have in-house training? Do you have a training company? And do you train to City and Guilds and NVQ standard?
We have our own in-house Learning and Development team. We run a range of development programmes and training programmes for our staff.
Where possible, they are externally recognised qualifications with providers like City and Guilds, ILM, which is the Institute of Leadership and Management, or the Chartered Managers Institute. We recognise that giving our colleagues an externally recognised qualification helps them to have the confidence to know their skills, knowledge and experience are being kept up to date and that's important to us.
There are a lot of reports of aggression and violence used against retail staff. I wondered what the co-op is doing to try and protect colleagues.
Our colleagues’ health and safety is very important to us. We’ve been particularly active in supporting the Association of Convenience Stores’ Shop Kind scheme, which encourages customers to treat shop workers with respect.
This benefits colleagues and customers alike, as it encourages a welcoming and safe space for all. We are aware there has been a lot of national publicity about issues around violence towards shop workers. Thankfully, our figures locally do not reflect the national picture. We clearly continue to monitor that business wide, but also store by store to identify if there are any particular areas of concern.
Some of our food stores do have a security guard in place, and that's based on assessed need.
We also recognise, particularly in the last few years, there have been more challenges for our colleagues in our pharmacies, as there has been much more pressure on health services and health care provision and much more pressure around prescriptions and response times.
We provide colleagues guidance on managing conflict and knowing when to walk away from a situation that’s escalating and remind them to always put their personal safety above any potential loss to the business.
Should requests for local volunteering by a shop be sent to the manager of the shop or to head office for action?
We'd love to hear from you in any way. When you're applying for our Community Champions scheme, there is an option on that form to say you'd like support from our volunteering programme.
You can also get in touch with us by phone or email at our support centre in Lincoln.
We are happy to help community groups with small raffle prizes and donations – all you need to do is pop into your local Lincolnshire Co-op food store with a letter outlining what your organisation does and details of the fundraising event.
Why do the Lincolnshire Co-op not always match the other Co-op's offers - such as members offers with a membership card?
Lincolnshire Co-op is a separate business from the other co-ops around the country and we offer different promotions and member benefits. For example, the 10% vouchers we give away in stores in the run up to Christmas aren't offered in other co-ops. We also pay dividend on the vast majority of purchases whereas other co-ops choose other reward mechanics. This is something we constantly keep under review.
Could we have more points on items in store like big supermarkets do on our card and more people would use the stores?
We pay dividend on the vast majority of products in food stores - 1% dividend, with some exclusions. We've also got double dividend on fruit and veg, our Love Local range and the Fairtrade range
For a three-month trial up to November, we tried extra dividend on several products to see how that went. That didn't do anything for sales - we didn't see members buying any more or reacting positively.
Member reward is something we are always looking at, and there's lots happening in the market. It is a live topic and something we continue to keep under review. We want to give members as much reward as possible but considering the headwinds and cost pressures we're under now.
Is the Co-op is considering having any further excursions to the original Co-op in Rochdale. I was sorry to miss the last one and hope there will be another opportunity.
There are currently no plans for an excursion to the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. The museum is open to the public to visit all year round. More information can be found at https://www.co-operativeheritage.coop/
Membership - events
It is good that you provide free transport to the AMM from Lincoln. Have you considered providing a service from other places? Will you return to multiple venues for the AMMs so that more members can attend ?
We broadcast the AMM and the half year meeting online and about the same number of people were online as were in the room.
We are present and accessible to members across our trading area all throughout the year, as we go to many community events and run community events.
However, we've also got to bear in mind the cost of putting on these types of events - including the costs of providing free transport.
Everything is increasing in cost. What these kinds of events used to cost us is much more now, and we have to balance that. It is something we keep under review.
We would encourage you to get in touch and share your views on this event.
Why couldn’t you pay with dividend at the Christmas Market held as part of your members’ event this year?
The Christmas market was card payments only. In the main, purchases were direct from suppliers at special event prices and they are not able to accept dividend.
Why wasn’t the plum bread stall at the Christmas Market held as part of your members’ event this year?
Sadly, Myers Bakery was unable to attend this year due to other commitments.
Why were the cups from the refreshment stalls at your members’ event not recycled and included in the general rubbish?
The disposable cups were provided by the venue catering team and when used are sent for recycling by the venue.
After 31st December members will no longer receive year end dividend bonus in Travel and Funeral branches, but will still earn dividend at 1% in Travel and 5% in Funeral. Members can still pay with dividend if they wish too. Bookings made before 31st December will still be eligible for dividend bonus at the year end.
We used to source bags locally, but it was becoming much more costly to do that. When we buy as part of the co-op buying agreement, we do get them at a much-reduced price.
It means we don't have to pass that increased cost on to members.
What assurances can you give that the soft plastic the Co-op collects is recycled responsibly and does not end up overseas as some soft plastic waste collected by other schemes apparently does? Also, can you give an indication on the amounts the scheme is collecting?
The soft plastics are backhauled to a Co-op distribution centre where they are then bailed and sent to Jayplas (our recycling partner). Jayplas then separate out the soft plastics into 4 different streams:
- Polyethylene (PE)
- Clear e.g. bread bags which are recycled and can go round the system again.
- Coloured e.g. coloured bags
- Polypropylene (PP) e.g. crisp bags. Can be recycled into rigid plastic items like hand dryers and extractor fans.
- Mixed plastics e.g. pet food pouches. Can be recycled into construction board and plastic wood.
No plastic film collected in a Co-op store is shipped outside of the UK. All recycling (into pellets) is done in the UK. We don’t have figures on volume collected as this is managed by our buying group.
It's good to see that you're trying to reduce food wastage in stores, especially with discounts and the cost-of-living crisis. Have you considered expanding it further, either to include something on the app to notify people about discounted prices, or using a third-party app?
The membership app is something we'd love to develop. In terms of food waste, we have looked at various apps and systems. They've all got pros and cons and it's a question of picking the right scheme.
Are there any plans to update the parade in Cherry Willingham, which looks outdated, a bit scruffy and well behind other Lincolnshire co-op sites?
We own approximately half of the parade at Cherry Willingham and we're investing in the parts we can influence. We are looking to replace the roof and invest in some of the flats above the parade. We're also looking to improve the delivery yard at the back.
What's going to happen to the old Co-op store in Lincoln city centre? And are you planning a presence in the new market hall?
Earlier in the year we had plans for older people's housing to go on the former City Square Centre site. We also got outlined planning permission for a new hotel. The older people's housing developers have now moved on. But we still have outline planning permission for a hotel and we've got a very active interest from a developer operator. We're looking to move that forward early in the new year to get full planning permission for a new hotel on that site.
We are still considering options for the rest of the site, which will likely be housing. Again, we're looking to assess what the demand is for a particular type of housing before moving forward. In terms of the market hall, it's certainly something we can look at.
I do an annual survey on behalf of small businesses from South Park in Lincoln up to the Newport Arch, and I normally find 125 unoccupied retail units, mainly small ones, that figure I know when I do it again in January will be 200. You've been hit by rising costs, are you prepared for this?
We are putting in place a very detailed piece of work around the whole of our property portfolio to understand the properties that we really want to continue to develop, ensure that they are in the right place and understand the ones that we need to divest from.
We want to manage risk and ensure we have breadth. And that's why we've been spending a lot of time on our strategic plan to manage the risk.
What is the plan for the former food store site on Skellingthorpe Road in Lincoln? When will this start and when will it be completed?
We've earmarked this site for housing development. The first stage of that was to demolish the former store, which was completed a few months ago. The next stage is for us to work with potential partners to explore how we develop the site. We have several potential partners we're talking to, and that will determine what type of housing we put on that site.
Lincolnshire Co-op has not been involved with the Christmas Market in the past and as such, we don’t have a view on its cancellation.
However, through our role in the Cornhill Quarter, we work with lots of visitor organisations in Lincoln and beyond, including Visit Lincoln and Lincoln BIG and we’d encourage people to enjoy the range of festive events taking place across the area.