Co-op retail boss Steve Murrells hailed “early shoots of recovery” in its food business but refused to get carried away by improving sales.

Murrells insisted that the Co-op “should not be growing share” despite emerging as the fastest-growing retailer aside from Aldi and Lidl in January’s Kantar data.

Discussing the retailer’s road to recovery at Retail Week Live, Murrells downplayed its current position and claimed the c-store specialist wouldn’t “really start to win again” until 2018.

Murrells said: “This is a turnaround that has started. Some early shoots of recovery are emerging and its coming from us focusing on the basics – good food and easy shops.”

He added that the Co-op was focusing its investments into price, the quality of its own-label ranges and improved availability, which now stands at 98% during peak times at 8am on weekdays.

Murrells insisted such investment, including £150m into price over the past 15 months, was geared around the Co-op going back to its “pioneering roots” and creating an offer that was “different and compelling.”

Despite those investments driving improving sales, he predicted it would be another two years before the Co-op is firing on all cylinders again.

“For the first time in a decade, we are catching up in terms of investing in the right way for the business and making it a good and exciting shopping experience,” Murrells said.

“When I joined the Co-op midway through 2012, none of us had a plan. What I did observe was that the food business was close to a busted flush.

“There was no plan, there was no agenda, the organisation tended to flip-flop from one initiative to another and we had stopped listening to our frontline colleagues. We had been pushing members and customers away for decades.

“We set off on our journey to see if the food business could actually win again. We thought about how we would become relevant as a society in the 21st century and the simple thought was: if the Co-op didn’t have a purpose, there was no purpose in having a Co-op.

“We are moving from failing into where I’d say we are today in terms of competing. I am confident that come 2018, we will be in a place where we will really start to win again.”

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