As well as looking back on all our achievements and wishing our CEO Ursula Lidbetter a happy retirement, we answered your questions; whether you submitted them online, wrote them down prior to the meeting, or raised your hand during the meeting.
We received a great variety of questions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to answer them all on the night, but we have listed them with answers below:
Is Lincolnshire Co-op assisting older businesses that are finding it hard to remain trading in the Lincoln High Street i.e. lower rent?
We do all we can to support our tenants, whether that's the way in which we set up a lease or promoting the business to our members. Throughout the pandemic, we continued to talk to our tenants and offered support in various ways. Charities, community tenants and local tenants who were badly affected by trading restrictions – so for example those who legally weren’t allowed to trade – were given a rent-free period. As a result, we maintained our tenants. We recently asked our tenants for feedback and were pleased with the results - 80% rated us 8/10 or higher.
Some perishable goods last longer in packaging. That’s why some of our fruit and veg are packaged to keep it fresh and reduce food waste. It’s a balance and our buying group is always looking at reducing plastic and adapting packaging. We have soft plastic recycling available in the vast majority of food stores, so you can dispose of any soft plastics in a greener way.
78% of packaging of Co-op own brand products are easily recyclable – that’s defined as recycled by at least 75% of local authorities nationally. In the near future, our buying group wants all own-brand products to be easy to recycle. We report how many products have easily recyclable packaging, whereas many other organisations base their recycling targets on weight. We believe weight doesn’t show the true picture – for example, glass, which is widely recycled, is heavier than many plastics. We also have our own soft plastic bins in most food stores, where you can recycle any soft plastic packaging.
Can a serious attempt be made to relocate and enlarge the Sutton on Trent store? It is too small and the car park is also too small so it results in lots of on-street parking which affects the neighbours.
Unfortunately, the current site does not offer any room for expansion - our food teams are keen to move the store to a new site, which offers more space. Work is underway to find a suitable spot.
Would you consider putting better vouchers worth money in members magazine? They’ve dropped in value past few years, and I’ve found a lot of the time I can’t use the vouchers as you don’t stock items in all stores, so could we have vouchers that are more useable rather than ones where you don’t stock the products in all stores? Also, could you consider doing four magazines a year so we have spring/summer/autumn/winter?
When deciding which vouchers to provide, we try our best to strike a balance between supporting our Love Local producers and providing some more general ones. Instead of money off, our vouchers offer extra dividend. This is to ensure that the offer is exclusive to members only. We take your comments on board about widespread availability and will try to be more conscious about this in the future. We offer the members' magazine as a member benefit, and there is a cost element involved in producing them; at the moment, there are no plans to produce them more frequently, but we will keep this under review.
Why do shop staff wear headsets which they sometimes talk into when they are serving customers as it is very off putting?
Our colleagues have headset devices for security reasons, and to enable them to delegate responsibilities and answer customer queries with the support of their team. We always strive to provide high levels of customer service. If at any time these standards aren't met, please contact email@example.com, so that we can address any issues.
Can I please ask, why you don’t need to take items off the shelf when they’ve passed the sell by date? Our local co-op say that they don’t have to, even when the strawberries were mouldy.
To reduce food waste, we do sell certain products that are past their best before date at lower prices, such as cans, packets and some fruit and veg. All products should be suitable for consumption, but if a mistake is made, please notify a member of the team who will ensure that the product is removed from sale.
On your new build stores, what steps are taken to make them carbon neutral, and energy efficient, i.e., solar panels rainwater collection etc.?
Looking after our environment is in everything we do; from the recycling schemes on offer in stores, to the energy conserving doors we're installing on our fridges. You can read all about our important environmental work here, and specific information about how we design our stores can be found under 'environmental features'. We are hoping to have lots of exciting updates in the new year - including expanding our use of solar panels and developing more green spaces.
We have enquired about the suitability of this scheme for our branches, particularly those that do a lot of weekly medication boxes. Unfortunately, Tetracycle, the company offering this service, were not taking on any more sites when we last looked into this. We will keep under review.
We have now transferred the site to West Lindsey District Council, and there's plans for a cinema, three commercial units and a car park to be built, which will hopefully give the town centre a new lease of life.
We have appointed Alison Hands, currently Managing Director at Wilko, as our new Chief Executive Officer. Alison is set to join the society in April 2023. She brings over 33 years’ experience in a diverse mix of retail environments, including Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Boots Opticians. She is currently Managing Director at Wilko, having previously been Trading Director and Commercial Execution Director.
We currently have a vacancy for the Community Co-ordinator role in Boston, which we hope to fill early in the new year. In the meantime, please contact our Community team with any queries on firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfortunately, changes in government funding and reductions in income and footfall does have a bearing on staffing levels we’re able to provide in our post offices. We are working with Post Office Ltd to explore different ways of working, such as shorter opening times as well as self-service kiosks, in the hope that these will allow more options in the future. We also continue to make representations to MPs and ministers on this issue.
We don’t have any plans to re-enter the homeware market at the moment.
Please could someone have a look at the drain at Bardney Co-op? After a shower of heavy rain it is a lake outside the entrance. Thank you
We are currently working to resolve this issue and have now received planning consent that enables us to do so. We anticipate work beginning in the new year.
We are aware that our food store in Skellingthorpe is smaller than we would ideally want. Expansion on the site is not possible unfortunately, and there are currently no other sites in the village that are available and suitable for a relocation.
I would prefer to have the meetings at local venues during the winter months rather than having to travel in the dark.
We have previously held several Annual Members’ Meetings (AMMs) in different locations in November. Moving forwards, we need more time for the accounts to be finalised and audited following our year end in September. We have therefore moved to having our AMM in December, and it didn’t feel right to run a number of events so close to Christmas, and having to contend with the winter weather for both members and colleagues. So, we are planning to hold a round of events in March in the locations we have previously held an AMM, to provide an update from the Society and find out what more we could be doing to support members in each of these areas.
Is there a possibility of the food store on Wybers Wood in Grimsby taking on the franchise of a post office, we lost our last post office when McColls closed over two years ago?
Due to changes in government funding and reductions in income and footfall, unfortunately we cannot justify taking over new post office branches. We recognise the value of a post office to a local community which is why we have been subsidising our post offices with a substantial amount of money each year. With this in mind, we are focusing resources on trying to retain those we currently have. Post offices are an issue we are extremely concerned about. We are working with Post Office Ltd to explore different ways of working, such as shorter opening times as well as self-service kiosks, in the hope that these will allow more options in the future. We also continue to make representations to MPs and ministers on this issue.
MEAL DEAL FOR £6 If one item is unavailable, the deal cannot be completed so other items cost over £6, whereas some stores allow substitutes. Why is the policy not the same in all stores?
We unfortunately only get a set amount of stock of the freezer filler items from our buying group, and it is a very popular offer. Our colleagues can offer select items as substitutes, but this is subject to availability.
Please tell me why my child cannot take her coin savings into the post office to change for notes, yet it can be paid into an account and immediately withdrawn? This only seems to happen at co-op post offices, as coins can be changed for notes at standalone post offices.
Changing coins for notes is a service that some post office providers offer on a discretionary basis. Our post offices do not provide this service, for reasons around security and fraud prevention. Counting coins can also be time consuming for colleagues, and it's hard to know at what amount to draw the line. Having this policy in place ensures fair and equal treatment for all customers.
Can you please advise on what is happening to the empty McColls building on Wybers Wood in Grimsby which has been empty for a number of years and is deteriorating?
We have planning permission to split the old McColls unit into three units. We are currently considering tenders.
I am really, really pleased that the village of Laceby are going to have a Lincolnshire Co-op, we often make special journeys to Caistor and Keelby. Can the start date be brought forward to commence the works... so it opens sooner? From, an excited member.
We're really excited to be opening a store in Laceby, and serve the local community there. Our contractors are working hard on the build, so keep an eye on our social media pages and website for updates on progress and opening plans.
Why is a co-op not being built in Sutterton? Residents are crying out for a co-op, it is so desperately needed, more houses are being built and the school (which covers three other villages) is expanding.
Although there are currently no plans to open a branch in Sutterton, we are always on the lookout for new sites, and your feedback has been passed to our food team to consider. We do have our Gosberton food store not far from Sutterton.
Some stores do not participate in the £5 frozen meal deals, Cherry Willingham is one such store. I emailed the co-op to ask why this was and I was told that it was to allow for a greater range of lines in store. This puts Cherry Willingham customers at a disadvantage from other members purely by location. I saw no customer ballot that would support the co-op's response. Can the Co-op food stores please offer members the same offers in EVERY store?
Our frozen meal deal range is available in all stores that have sufficient frozen space to support the deal, but we also need to offer a core range. We’re regularly reviewing stock, and the food team will assess the space allocation of frozen on the back of this query.
Are there any plans to do up the Cherry Willingham shopping area (not the co-op store itself but the other commercial units owned by the co-op) in the same way other shopping areas have been improved?
There are no development plans currently, but we will keep under review.
Is there a way that the dividend that is not claimed by the large number of holiday makers who don't have dividend cards could be given at the till to the Community Champions? For example, Away Resorts patrons who use Tattershall Co-op.
Dividend is a member benefit and cannot be passed onto others. Similarly, our Community Champions scheme is linked to member spend in our stores.
There are planning applications submitted for this area which are currently being reviewed.
Do the 10% dividend vouchers work for fuel too and is there any chance that the 10% dividend vouchers can be at an additional time other than Christmas? Thank you.
10% dividend vouchers cannot be used on fuel, as this has a different rate of standard dividend – 1p for every 5 litres. We run various member promotions throughout the year, including 10% dividend vouchers at Easter, and extra dividend on selected ranges at different times.
Will you be using free range eggs in your own brand products again? We would really like to see a move back to this.
All of our Co-op own brand eggs are free-range, and any other own-brand products containing egg are also free range.
There are currently no plans for this, but we will keep under review.
I feel the app for dividends is either not fit for purpose or not being maximised. There’s never exclusive offers for dividend holders, and with convenience store equivalents Nectar and Clubcard prices you need to become more competitive in a cost of living crisis. Not just your extra 10% at Christmas. Any plans to evolve this proposition?
In terms of member benefits, we offer exclusive offers, promotions, events, and competitions throughout the year. Members can also collect dividend as they shop, and receive an annual bonus, which is a percentage dependent on profits. We have recently introduced more member offers with local restaurants as members were asking for this. We are planning to relaunch our member app in the new year, which will allow us to better communicate our member benefits, and provide another channel for ideas and feedback.
Ten allotments on the Lower Long Leys Allotment site are at risk of having a shop being built on. The Co-op has been rumoured to be a potential business for the shop. The local public are against this but the LLRA (Long Leys Residents Association) are pushing with the destruction of the ten allotments to build this shop. Can you confirm if the Co-op is a potential business for this shop?
Long Leys Road is a large residential area which is currently not served by a convenience store. We’re monitoring the area for suitable sites as we are always looking for new opportunities for new locations.
Relating to food stores, can we please get more security? As the staff are left to defend the stores themselves from shoplifters. There is only so much they can do to protect the produce.
We ask colleagues to value their own personal safety over the loss of goods or money. We don’t tolerate abuse or violence towards colleagues and will actively pursue those involved wherever possible. We also offer counselling to any colleague involved in a violent incident. If colleagues are subject to abuse in one of our stores, we ask them to complete an incident report form with as much detail as possible. Ensuring that all incidents are logged allows the team to assess if higher levels of security are needed.
Why are dividends so low, I go to my local co-op every day and yet I come out of the year with only a couple pounds it makes collecting dividend points almost not worth it?
The dividend bonus is based on the amount of dividend earned over the year, and how profitable we've been. Throughout the year, there are promotions that enable you to earn more dividend, and, as well as accumulating dividend, you raise money for good causes through our Community Champions each time you use your dividend card. There are some products that we don’t offer dividend on such as cigarettes, lottery tickets and stamps.
Why are we spending so much on the salaries of these people who run the company? £700,000 seems to be too much. I feel like as a community we are no longer a co-operative. It should be more about the people instead of 1 person.
It's important that our remuneration arrangements enable the society to attract and retain the level of talent and capacity required to run a diverse and complex business like ours. Such skills are desirable within many competitor businesses, so we have appropriate arrangements in place which enable us to benchmark our reward packages across not just the co-operative sector, but also the wider mutual and commercial sectors. Ensuring that these arrangements are robust is essential to meeting the needs of the business, therefore enabling us to support our local communities and economy.
Last year I spent hours and hours in multiple stores on multiple days over Christmas searching for Gadsby’s white chocolate and amaretto truffles. None to be found at all. Why were there none? And what has brought them back this year?
These are available - if you can’t find them in your local store, please ask a colleague for assistance.
Would you consider keeping licensed music in stores? The atmosphere and environment is so much happier with songs staff and customers know.
During the Christmas period, we pay the additional fees to play licensed music, but don’t currently budget to pay these fees all year round. We know that many customers and colleagues enjoy the instore radio, and we use the opportunity to communicate messages about latest Society news and offers which also seems to work well.
- We are continually reviewing our ranges, and try to offer the best variety possible with the space we have available in our convenience size food stores. We do pass on feedback to our buying group about our range so thanks for letting us know.
Our range of products is constantly being reviewed, based on buying patterns, trends and new goods coming onto the market. It can mean we start selling more of a variety of products – such as the increased home baking range we now stock – but it can mean that we stop selling certain products too. We do pass on feedback to our buying group about our range so thanks for letting us know.
All answers were correct at the time of the event - Thursday 8th December 2022.