Retail analysts seem to spend most of their lives talking about Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Asda when it comes to the nation’s supermarkets but much less attention is given to The Co-operative Food. However, that may all be about to change.

Retail analysts seem to spend most of their lives talking about Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Asda when it comes to the nation’s supermarkets but much less attention is given to The Co-operative Food. However, that may all be about to change.

Steve Murrells, the company’s chief executive, has just built up his senior management team in a bid to accelerate recent sales growth.

Among the new recruits is Andrew Mann, at present director of insight and loyalty at Sainsbury’s, who will be The Co-operative Food’s first customer director. The company has announced two more new executive roles:  service delivery director and supply chain director.

The news from The Co-operative Food doesn’t end there. The group has also brought in Howard Reed to the new role of food chief information officer.

He has more than 20 years’ experience in retail IT, mostly with Asda and, more recently, with New Look, where he was group IT and change director.

Clearly, this is a company that is doing some serious ramping up.  Not only are these significant hires in their own right but the areas on which they will focus also suggest a newfound interest in building a new IT strategy and revamping the customer experience.

But something tells me that The Co-operative Food knows that already. The decision to bring Andrew Mann on board to look at loyalty and insight will be central to building the brand.

At the same time, the appointment of Howard Reed shows a commitment to improving its IT processes, which will play a vital role in both distribution and home delivery.

Even so, these new execs will certainly have their work cut out. For a start, The Co-operative Food has a smaller store portfolio than its rivals, which means that the company will need to work that much harder to attract a broad customer base that chooses to shop with it for more than just convenience.

The good news, however, is that The Co-operative Food has always been a well-regarded brand, in part because it shares many of the same qualities as the much-loved John Lewis. 

Consumers tend to feel that the company treats its employees well because it’s a cooperative. Not only that but The Co-operative Food is well known for its dedication to corporate social responsibility and ethical business practices.

These qualities will be very important for creating a strong brand identity and building customer loyalty, which will be essential if The Co-operative Food wants to move up the ranks and leave its reputation as the nation’s fifth largest supermarket behind.

In addition to focusing on demographic growth, the company will need to focus on retaining any existing customers who may be tempted by Aldi and other discount retailers, whose competitive price points have reaped rewards.

The company will therefore need to keep an eye on this end of the market by building a quality brand that represents value for money, rather than trying to compete on price alone.

The Co-operative Food has probably been the fifth largest supermarket ever since analysts started listing these things, but the company’s latest strategic appointments may be able to move it up the ranks.

If the retailer improves its distribution network, updates its web presence, sharpens its brand and overhauls its online offering – and perhaps avoids selling any burgers that contain horsemeat – The Co-operative Food may finally be on course to consign its ‘fifth largest’ label to history.

  •  Dan Coen, Director, Zolfo Cooper