Co-op buys David Sands convenience store chain


A 200-year-old family-owned store chain has been snapped up by the Co-op as part of the latest expansion at the UK's fifth biggest grocer.

David Sands, which employs 700 people at 28 convenience store outlets in Fife, Kinross and Perthshire, was hailed as a major acquisition by the Co-op.

The takeover for an undisclosed sum came as the Co-op, with 2,800 stores in the UK, announced like-for-like food sales rose 3.1% in the four weeks to the end of December, including a 16.1% surge in the week before Christmas.

The acquisition of David Sands will end two centuries of tradition as an independent trader. The business was founded in the early nineteenth century by Joseph Hardie, a prominent local businessman and founder of the Kinross Free Church, and has remained in his family ever since.

In the 1960s the Kinross store was converted to self-service and a car park was added, which in those days was seen as a major innovation, and the company bought a second store in Glenfarg, which was eventually sold.

But it was not until the last two decades that the chain's expansion began in earnest when it acquired 26 stores, as well as a warehouse and head office in Kinross.

The company prides itself on its strong relationships with local suppliers and recently started making its own ready meals above one of its stores.

The acquisition is part of the Co-op's ambitious plans to expand its food store network by 300 sites over the next three years, taking on some 7,000 extra staff.

The group, which grew significantly after it bought the Somerfield supermarket chain, currently has 370 food stores in Scotland, making it the fourth largest retailer in the country.

The Co-op's Christmas performance benefited from a 25% increase in sales of its Elmwood British turkeys, while white wine rose 21% boosted by exclusive ranges, with mince pie sales up 12%.

Despite the recent improvement at its food stores, like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to the end of December were still down 0.2%.

But the group said this represents an improving trend on the first half when it reported the toughest trading conditions for 40 years.

Its online electricals business enjoyed its best ever Christmas, with sales up 18.4% in the four weeks with flat screen TVs, laptops and iPods selling well.

The group, which is also the UK's largest mutual retailer, said all its trading arms, including its funerals and pharmacy businesses, saw their performance improve in the month, with overall group sales up 3.1%. Car sales benefited from strong demand for Land Rovers.

Chief executive Peter Marks said: "These results represent an encouragingly good performance in the very competitive markets in which we operate and in continuing difficult economic times.

"Against the backdrop of financial pressures on household budgets, our focus on quality and value and the fact that our food stores are located in communities struck a chord with customers."