Co-op retailers will have been buoyed by recent news that The Co-operative Group beat sales growth at its major supermarket rivals for the first time in five years.
Sales grew by 1.4 per cent in the 12 weeks to 31 January (2016) according to research company Kantar Worldpanel. Despite the positive news, co-operative retailers continue to face a myriad of challenges.
The economic climate, Whitehall policy and changing consumer habits and demands will all impact on retailers in what remains a fluid landscape.
James Walton, Chief Economist at food and grocery research organisation IGD, said: "The UK is one of the best performing economies in Europe, but productivity remains low and food prices are sliding as a consequence of zero inflation.
"Other factors will also concern retailers. We've the cost implications of April's National Living Wage introduction and looking further ahead, the fallout from BREXIT if Britain does opt out of the EU."
James Walton is the opening speaker at the Co-operative Retail Conference, taking place from March 4-6 in Stratford-upon-Avon. For latest news, programme details and ticket information click here.
The convenience sector remains on an upward curve within the grocery market – but competitors operating across numerous channels are all competing for market share.
James Walton said: "We anticipate a continuing shift out of larger formats and into discounting, convenience and online. But the major retailers are adapting, with new innovations around the larger formats.
"In the convenience sector competitors are continuing to muscle in on what has traditionally been home territory for co-ops. We are also witnessing format innovation in this key area."
Staying ahead of the competition remains a tough ask with consumer needs constantly evolving. James Walton said: "Part of the challenge for retailers is that shoppers believe – maybe rightly – that they can now get better food and drink for less.
"Are retailers competing primarily on price? And what will it take to make shoppers trade up? These are both important questions for the co-op sector.”
James Walton is the opening speaker on Saturday 5 March at the Co-operative Retail Conference (2016). The event attracts the leaders, managers and directors of retail co-operatives from right across the UK. For the programme, tickets and latest conference information click here.