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Champagne sales add sparkle to Co-operative figures

CHAMPAGNE sales added a sparkle to Christmas at Co-operative Group as it posted a 2.2% rise in like-for-like sales for the five weeks to January 5.

The mutually owned group, which will soon welcome Scot Euan Sutherland as chief executive, said its convenience stores did particularly well, with like-for-like sales up 5.5%.

Chief executive Peter Marks, who is to retire in May, said: "Against a difficult economic environment, customers were keen to celebrate Christmas and the new year with their friends and family."

The Manchester-based group, which has 400 stores in Scotland, said that champagne sales were up 29% while chilled desserts, such as tiramisu and profiteroles, were ahead 32% on last year.

Christmas Eve was the business day of the year for the food business, with takings of more than £35 million as customers did last-minute shops.

The vast majority of Co-operative's estate in Scotland, some 262 outlets, includes small convenience stores under 3000 square feet in size. It boosted its presence north of the Border last year with the acquisition of a chain of 28 convenience stores in Fife, Perthshire and Kinross from David Sands.

Co-operative, which has 2800 stores UK-wide, said the Christmas performance followed improved underlying performance in its food business in the second half of 2012, and that in the final 13 weeks of the year, food sales were up 0.3% on a like-for-like basis.

Retailers are struggling to put on sales as disposable incomes are squeezed between muted wage growth and rising prices for items such as fuel.

Co-operative said that over the three-week Christmas period, over-the-counter sales at its pharmacy business were up 7.7% on a like-for-like basis as gift sales grew 55%.

Online business Co-operative Electrical saw sales increase by 15.5%, due in part to a 68% increase in demand for tablet computers.

Mr Sutherland, who was raised in North Berwick and Bearsden, Glasgow, will leave his post as chief operating officer of Kingfisher, owner of DIY chain B&Q, in March and join the Co-operative two months later.

He has had links with Co-operative since 2010 when he became a non-executive director of its food business.

One of his major tasks will be the integration of 632 bank branches, including the Lloyds TSB Scotland estate, it is buying from Lloyds Banking Group.

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