At our Summer Member Event and Half Yearly Meeting, we encouraged questions from our members.
Here are those we received before the event, during the ‘question and answer’ session, in the comments boxes and through members approaching Board and Senior Leadership Team representatives after the meeting.
Food - products
Why can't food manufacturers or suppliers, whether it be a co-op product or otherwise, make the Best Before or Use by dates larger and clearer please?
The best before/use by dates are overprinted on packaging and there are limitations on how this can be done in the production process. If there are particular products where the information is not clear, we would advise contacting the supplier directly about this.
For co-op own brand products, please go to this webpage to report any concerns – Product issues or returns - Co-op (coop.co.uk)
To combat unnecessary food waste, co-ops have recently removed best before dates from the majority of fruit and vegetables to encourage customers to go by visual inspection – if it looks good enough to eat, it usually is.
Each store is allocated a range, which we think, given all our knowledge, is best for that store. Broadly, we're pretty good at this, but there will inevitably always be some issues.
Bicarbonate Soda is not currently part of the smaller range, so that means it will only be available in larger stores.
One large food retailer has done just that recently. We get our milk from the co-operative group, which wholesale to us. If this change is introduced in the future we will communicate that clearly to customers.
Why does the Co-op in Lincoln (Sincil Street) charge 25p per banana? Even though I was buying a bunch it clearly stated £1.25p a kg. When I queried this, they said it was a ‘Shop and Go’ store. Is this not unfair?
Our store estate is made up a various different layouts, in some of these stores we do not have scales and only sell pre-weighted items. In stores with scales we sell bananas by the kilo based on their weight.
We still run our saving stamps scheme in food stores – just pop into your local outlet to pick up a booklet.
Food - stores and developments
Costs for construction for building new stores and refits are rising. So, it's a real privilege to get the support of the Board to continue delivering new local co-ops for local communities. And the John Fisher site is a really good case in point because we are going to be supporting a community in Scartho near Grimsby with a new food store. We will be going out to tender soon and hope to open within 12 months.
We really want to do better in Skellingthorpe for the local community. We don't think there's much we can do with the existing store, but we would be very interested in another site.
Can we improve the access to the Woodhall Spa food store, particularly for those using walking frames, and would it be possible to increase the size of the store?
Sadly, we can’t increase the size of our current Woodhall Spa store because it is a historic building in the centre of town with no room to expand. We have passed your feedback onto the food team to see if there is anything more we can do to improve access.
Please sort out the congestion at the checkout at your Sincil Street store. Confusion, chaos and queues in all directions. It’s dangerous for elderly and disabled customers. The checkout needs moving!
Our Sincil Street store is very busy, and with a historic building there are limitations with what we can do with the space. We do have self-checkout tills available which can help ease queuing, and we have passed your feedback onto the food team to see if anything more can be done.
Following up from last year what progress has been made on using file extensions that make sense for attachments sent to clients by the travel branches?
After reviewing other systems, we have decided to stay with our existing provider but to upgrade to a newer version which will resolve the file naming issue. We are hoping to have this in place by January 2024.
We closed the Horncastle Travel branch in September 2022. We had various issues including problems with recruitment at that branch. As other travel branches returned to pre-pandemic levels of business, we couldn’t release the colleagues to cover.
We are a successful co-operative, we record strong trading results which mean we can share our profits with our colleagues, our members and our communities. But to ensure we can do this in the long term, we have to be a successful business and recognise when an outlet is not working for us.
Our colleagues in the Louth Travel branch would be delighted to help you and can also help you book on the phone if that’s easier - Travel Agents Louth in Market Place
Funeral and Florist
I’ve had my Lincolnshire Co-op funeral plan in place for about 10 years – is it still going to be able to provide for my funeral when needed?
Yes. Last year we transferred all our funeral plans to Ecclesiastical Planning Services Ltd (EPS) due to the introduction of regulation of the funeral plans market. EPS are Authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and we are now an Appointed Representative of EPS. This means they will hold your funeral plan until the funeral is needed. Then we will conduct the funeral as per the specification of the plan without further cost to your personal representatives, although they may choose to add items not included in the plan which they would pay for at the time, for example floral tributes and newspaper announcements.
I have requested that my body be left to medical research. Should I still consider taking out a funeral plan?
It is worth approaching the University Medical School to ascertain the likelihood of accepting your body when you die as there are many reasons why this may be refused. Therefore, whilst not expecting to have to arrange a funeral, in such circumstances, your family may have to do so. You may choose to purchase a funeral plan just in case, and if this is not required upon death, Ecclesiastical would pay the proceeds of the plan into your estate.
I enquired about sending flowers from the Lincolnshire Co-op Florist, but chose not to because of the excessive delivery costs to Metheringham. Why is it so expensive compared to other florists in the area?
We have followed up on this and established that it is an unfortunate consequence of the delivery charges being determined by postcode sector, rather than a mileage radius from the shop. In reality, the cost to deliver a single arrangement to somewhere as far as Metheringham in terms of mileage, staff costs etc could be seen to justify the costs quoted, but in terms of competitiveness and industry norms, we need to ensure we are aligned so as not to lose trade due to this surcharge. We have undertaken to review the calculation process to ensure we are competitive and offer good value in future.
We have looked into whether this would be possible and sadly we are unable to offer this currently for a number of reasons.
The company (Tetracycle) is no longer taking on new businesses. Even if they were, we have to pay to take part and we estimate it would cost around £120,000 per year to do so.
We also have to dispose of unused medication in a set way through a specific waste disposal process. It would mean each pill packet would have to be checked by colleagues to see if they were empty. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be practical in terms of the demands on our colleagues.
We offer soft plastic recycling in 87 of our food stores. It’s a scheme which is led by our buying group. This means you can dispose of materials such as bread bags or chocolate wrappers in an environmentally friendly way.
While local councils offer recycling for hard plastics such as yogurt pots or milk bottles, soft plastics are not collected, so this scheme gives an accessible option for shoppers wanting to play their part.
Instead of expanding the soft plastic scheme, the buying group is focusing efforts on making more products easy to recycle via doorstep collections. Currently, 78% of Co-op own-brand products are easily recyclable - that’s defined as recycled by at least 75 per cent of local authorities nationally. Recent initiatives include changing the colour of milk bottle tops to make them easier to recycle.
We have an Environment Group with representatives from across our different business areas to consider all the ways the Society can reduce its impact on the environment.
We also have a Sustainability Advisor who is helping us set meaningful goals through the Science Based Targets Initiative. We are focusing on reducing our carbon emissions and reducing our energy use.
The Board of Directors are elected by our members to oversee the running of the Society. We also have opportunity for up to three co-opted Directors if required, who have specific skills we need.
The Directors hold the leadership team to account, and independently review elements such as renumeration, membership, audit and risk.
We have a membership app currently which is basically your dividend card on your phone. It's a simple barcode you can use to scan in store to collect your dividend and also pay with dividend.
We have plans to improve our app by adding a lot more of the member benefits and rewards that are available on our website onto the app. These changes require some development to our IT systems but as soon as we can deliver a new improved app for you, we will.
Please contact our Membership team on 01522 781 135 (Monday-Friday, 8.30am-5pm) if you wish to make a share account transaction, including share withdrawals via bank transfer, which can now be arranged over the phone.
Why could I not attend the event in-person at the Lincolnshire Showground – there seemed to be empty seats in the room?
We asked members to book a place to attend in-person. The venue capacity was set at 550 and all these spaces were booked. On the day, over 100 members did not turn up. We will review this for next time and hope you joined us online where members were able to watch the meeting, vote and ask questions in our Q&A.
The co-op presence at the Lincolnshire Show has been reduced in recent years which is a shame. And will the pop-up store return?
We've supported the show for a number of years. We're always present but what we’ve been trying to do is spread our investment around the county, particularly with our trading area growing. There are so many summer shows, at village, town and at city level.
We're at over 100 events this year so we’re trying to spread our investment so we can see as many people as possible over the year. Because of this, we are not planning to increase our presence at Lincolnshire Show this year, and there are no current plans to run a shop at the event.
That's certainly something we'll think about. We're constantly trying to do these events bigger and better. Obviously, there's so many dynamics to that. It depends how many people turn up on the day. We did have 550 people booked to attend the event and about 400 have turned up, so we manage the event the best we can on the day. We may look at two sittings for lunch at future events.
We have offered free transport from Lincoln city centre in previous years but members asked for drop offs to their homes after the event which resulted in a long journey home with multiple drop offs. We will look at this again, but it would have to be a pick up and drop off in the city centre only if we were to offer this.
Could there be some more community events – we had one in Louth, some years ago – litter picking around the canal – great fun!
We support a series of clean up events every spring and this year we went to 13 locations. It’s great to hear you are interested in an event in Louth – we’ve let our community team know. Make sure you are signed up to receive our emails so you can find out when the next events in your area are planned.
We’ve recently acquired Waterside Centre jointly with a group called Wykeland, who are Hull-based property developers. They are very similar to us, long term thinkers who invest in the community. The two of us working together could bring some real benefits.
Short term, we want to really improve the visitor experience. If we can increase the time that people spend in the centre, that will help the retailers.
There's not much event activity in there and we think we can do more with this. In The Cornhill Quarter, south of the building, we have some great outdoor space, but we don’t have any indoor space. So, we think between ourselves, the team at Wykeland and others in the city, we can get a better event programme and start to connect these areas up.
Medium term, we're open to ideas and we’re thinking about more leisure activities.
The aim is to improve the experience, make it better for the tenants in there and connect it with the areas around it.
The City of Lincoln Council operate the market and they've been redeveloping that building. We understand that in July some of the space will open, and then the main square will open in October.
We have eleven sites at the moment where we have solar panels. We had paused roll out a few years ago because the economics didn't stack up for solar at that time, but we are now back on with a plan to install at more sites.
Are you going to improve the area around Costa Coffee drive through in Lincoln? The signage and Costa look brilliant but the facilities around the car park on Wragby Road entrance looks very tatty and seem to spoil the area.
We are currently finalising plans to improve the appearance of this area and hope to start work early next year.
What incentives are you giving for people to work for Lincolnshire Co-op? I’m aware colleagues get a percentage bonus, is this in-line with what top management get?
All our colleagues receive a range of benefits, which includes employer paid pension contributions, colleague discount, sick pay, holiday pay and much more. And for example, in the last year, recognising the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, we have also given additional colleague discount to our colleagues at different points in time.
We have an all-colleague profit share and that pays out twice a year and all our colleagues benefit from that. And in the last year, colleagues have had pay awards of at least 6%, with many colleagues, including our frontline customer serving staff, receiving over 9% pay awards.
In relation to bonuses, all our bonus payments, including the all-colleague profit share, are at the discretion of our Board of Directors and are reviewed each year based on the society's profitability and performance. There are management and leadership bonuses and those arrangements are appropriate for those roles. And the marketplace and bonus, along with all our other colleague rewards and benefits, is about being able to recruit, retain, reward and motivate our colleagues to give you the very best service and experience we can in our stores and outlets when you shop with us.
As an employer, we work very closely with the Department of Work and Pensions, and we are recognised by them as a Disability Confident leading employer.
There are three levels of status and we hold the highest level in recognition for the policies, the procedures and the practices that we have across our business. That happens by the recruiting managers that we have across the Society being aware of how we can create access and opportunity for people to join our workforce and succeed in their careers with us.
And clearly, disability can be a range of things and some things are not always visible. So, we make sure our managers are aware and understand to be able to provide support for people. In addition to being a Disability Confident leading employer, we have also worked very closely with an organisation called Mindful Employer for many years, which is particularly around mental health and wellbeing.
It’s down to the cost that Amex charges retailers for using the cards. Generally, people have an alternative form of payment, so if they have an Amex card, they'll have another card they could use.
We don’t use that term to promote Lincolnshire Co-op. Historically, it was used by John Lewis.
Currently, we don’t trade in Scampton so the future of the former RAF base does not affect us directly.
All answers were correct at the time of the event - Saturday 10th June 2023.