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All Posts By Hayley Toth, Journalist

Co-op Sells Off 298 Stores to Convenience Store Rival McColls

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Supermarket retailer, the Co-op has sold off nearly 300 of its smaller convenience stores to competitor, McColls, in a deal worth £117m. It’s part of the Co-op’s strategy to decrease its assets so as to raise investment in its remaining stores.

The deal has come around fairly quickly: the supermarket retailer hired advisers from Rothschild (an investment boutique) to help find potential buyers for the 298 stores earlier this year. All being well, McColls will take control of the properties, which account for almost 10% of the Co-op group’s retail estate, imminently.

That said, the deal still requires the approval of both McColls’ shareholders and the UK retail competition watchdog though it seems likely the convenience store retailer and newsagent will get the green light. At finalisation of the acquisition, McColls will receive a significant boost to its portfolio of stores, taking it over the 1,000 mark for the first time and providing it the edge during a period of increased competition in the small, convenience stores market.

Indeed, the popularity of convenience stores has been rising steadily for the past few years as consumer buying habits change and the e-commerce channel grows. The convenience sector, specifically, is estimated to have a market value of some £37.7bn with consumers’ lack of time and the rise of online shopping both cited as key drivers for the growth.

Last year, two new convenience stores were opened every day.


Previous branding before Co-op revived the four leaf clover insignia

Jonathan Miller, Chief Executive of McColls, was delighted with the acquisition of Co-op’s stores, describing them as “the perfect size” for the company’s operating model. He also suggested that the stores would bring value to the company and raise the earnings of its shareholders.

Despite the loss of 10% of its assets, Steve Murrell, Chief Executive of the Co-Op was equally elated and said the sale of the stores was “completely in line” with the business growth and improvement strategy. In fact, he revealed that the £117m raised through the sale will go toward improving the state and appeal of the stores retained.

All 3,808 staff previously employed at the Co-op’s sold stores will keep their jobs and be re-employed by McColls under the same terms and conditions.

This isn’t the first time that the Co-op has consolidated its assets. In May, the supermarket retailer sold off around 100 stores (branded Somerfield) to Hilco in order to rid itself of 36 unprofitable stores and 60 vacant properties.

It has, however, replenished its depleting stock with the acquisition of six My Local stores last week after the convenience retailer went into administration.

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Support Your Local Shops For Independent Retailer Month

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This month, it’s Independent Retailer Month – the part of the year where the importance of independent and small retailers’ is highlighted and consumers are asked to get behind their local stores. The campaign is led by retail expert and founder of Support for Independent Retail, Clare Rayner, and is currently live, nationwide.

The key message from Clare and Independent Retailer Month is “use it or lose it” and, with that in mind, we take a look at just what small, local stores do for communities, the economy and consumers themselves.

[gdlr_heading tag=”h2″ font_weight=”bold”]Community Value[/gdlr_heading]

In many ways, independent traders are the lifeblood of communities. Often run by locals and serving locals, independent retailers often the opportunity to support local people, providing employment for thousands.

[gdlr_heading tag=”h2″ font_weight=”bold” ]Economic Force[/gdlr_heading]

The value of independent trader to the economy on a local scale has been thoroughly investigated and, indeed, proven. In local terms, financial analysts suggest that between 50p and 70p for every pound spent goes directly back into the local economy. When buying from major organisations or conglomerates, on the other hand, as little as 5% of the profits finds its way back into the local economy.

[gdlr_heading tag=”h2″ font_weight=”bold” ]For the Customer[/gdlr_heading]

The strength of independent traders against their much larger counterparts is their ability to care for customers. Sometimes small enough to know customers by name, independent stores are much better-positioned to offer high quality customer service. Indeed, they have a much greater stake in the business; staff are often partners and thus providing excellence tops the agenda.

Moreover, without being tied up in a group structure, independent traders have greater control over the products they supply and are able to more creative with anything from menus to fabrics and designs. They add variety; they bring something that large organisations are often unable to.

In such a way, the presence of small and independent retailers within the retail landscape also implores larger organisations to do more and do better – whether that’s in terms of price, product, product range or service.

As part of Independent Retailer Month, many small and independent stores are offering goods at discounted rates in order to encourage customers to the door. Some are also donating items to charity for raffles so as to highlight their positive community impact they represent.

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ukactive Urges New PM Theresa May To Continue Sporting Legacy

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It’s only Theresa May’s first day as Prime Minister but charities, associations and businesses are already vying for her attention in order to secure support for their own causes. Not-for-profit organisation, ukactive is one such enterprise calling on the PM as she takes up office. The body which gathers voices from the sports, leisure and lifestyle sector has asked the PM to continue the legacy of David Cameron in tackling the UK’s obesity epidemic.

The former PM’s tenure saw a great number of positive steps taken in respect of encouraging greater physical activity amongst children and young people in particular. The launch of Public Health England’s groundbreaking publication, Sporting Future, in 2013 latched on to the enthusiasm surrounding the Olympics and, with considerable investment, helped to sustain interest in physical activity. The “sugar tax” meanwhile discouraged the consumption of fizzy drinks – a well-known contributor to obesity and poor health – while all money made went towards funding physical activity and sports in schools.

Indeed, Cameron’s policies saw the sports and leisure sector enjoy year-on-year growth, becoming one of the UK’s most profitable.

ukactive is hoping that Theresa May maintains such momentum and is asking her to drive froward new policies geared toward inspiring sporting uptake and physical activity. Tackling childhood obesity remains a key issues fro the organisation and like sporting bodies but Executive Director of ukactive, Steven Ward is positive about the new PM’s appointment.

Specifically, he welcomed the fresh outlook Theresa would doubtless bring following the results of EU referendum and said she would play a crucial role negotiating new, beneficial trade deals for the UK. Stephen Ward also highlighted that the eventual trade deals could leave physical activity firms better off and allow them to collaborate more easily with traders overseas.

For Stephen, the previous government should be lauded for both recognising and beginning to treat the lack of physical activity within the UK. He insisted, however, that much more had to be done before the problem was eradicated and more emphasis should be placed on changing peoples’ attitude toward exercise and sports.

ukactive plans to work closely with the new administration over the next few months in order to make its case and set out ways in which the government can implore an uptake in physical activity and, equally, ways to drive business for its members.

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Pokémon Go: What’s It All About?

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Do you know your Pikachu from your Charizard? How about your Sandslash from your Gyarados?

With the launch of Pokémon Go, Generation Xers have been given the chance to relive Pokémon’s glory days – that is, the days of Pokémon Red, Blue, Green and Yellow – before it all got a little bit complicated and you could fly back and forth between Johto and Kanto, Hoenn and Sinnoh on the back of your Pidgeot, enter dancing competitions or dig for fossils underground.

In fact, Pokémon Go goes back to basics, stripping out the more complex features of the latest video games whilst retaining the fundamentals of catching and training Pokémon and, of course, hatching eggs. It’s the latter that’s had the public going potty for Pokémon, jumping on trains into the city and taking a walk in the sun with their smart device in hand just to see their animated critters come to life.

Unlike the popular Gameboy and, subsequently, Nintendo game wherein eggs might be handed to you by enigmatic characters along the way or spawn at the Daycare Centre as a result of the two Pokémon you have stored there, eggs on Pokémon Go appear sporadically as a reward for users visiting one of the game’s various PokéStops.

It’s probably at this point where a more full explanation of the game is required for its neither like any previous Pokémon game ever made nor akin to any app game currently on the market. Combining GPS tracking and augmented reality (AR), Pokémon Go retrieves location data of users via their smart phones, projecting Pokémon on users’ reality as it were by linking with the front-camera.

Pokémon Go

The aim remains to “catch ‘em all” as Ash Ketchum (the lead of Pokémon since its foundation) would have it though there is also ample opportunity to train your clan up. Just the same as the popular video game, Pokémon can be trained up by battling other Pokémon from rival teams or can level up with Stardust (which you receive with every Pokémon caught) and a breed-specific candy – a little like the “rare candy” of the original franchise. When users are confident in their team’s ability to perform, they can then stop by at friendly or rival Pokémon Gyms to test their might.

Gameplay credentials and ground-breaking technology aside, Pokémon Go actually has a lot to offer in the way of encouraging young people to get out into the world, do more exercise and meet people. For one thing, the amount of people you’ll bump into whilst walking around searching for an elusive Pikachu is as good of a conversation starter as any. And, of course, to catch some of the more rare breeds, the makers have hinted that users have to go further afield thus incentivising walking.

The app game is officially more popular than Tinder, thought to be the world’s most widely-used app, and with such a plethora of clever features and the direct and indirect sociable benefits, Pokémon is likely here to stay for a while.

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“A Great Boost” for Farmers With The Launch of Arla Farmers Milk

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Last month, we reported that Booths had experienced strong support amongst consumers for its Fair Milk initiative and that customers were very much on board with paying more for milk if it meant supporting local farmers. In recognition of that growing interest, fellow retailer and dairy producer, Arla, has unveiled its own initiative, Arla Farmers Milk, geared toward doing better for the nation’s farmers by charging customers a fraction more for the white stuff.

Arla Farmers Milk

The launch of Arla Farmers Milk comes in response to recent research that found that nearly two third of consumers would pay more for dairy products (not just milk but cheese and yoghurt, too) providing the extra cash goes to farmers. In fact, some seven out of 10 consumers said they would buy dairy products directly from businesses owned by farmers themselves if it meant supporting the agricultural industry.

Arla Farmers Milk will be available in Asda stores from today, sold in four-pint cartons in either of the most popular whole or semi-skimmed varieties. Just over a fifth of the proceeds of every milk carton sold goes directly to Arla farmers of which there are 12,700 nationally.

Member of Arla Foods amba Board Directors and Chairman of AMCo, Jonathan Ovens, described the launch of Arla Farmers Milk as “a great boost” for the organisation’s many dairy farmers. He added that it coincides with growing interest amongst consumers about where their food comes from and a desire to benefit the local economy through purchases.

Jonathan also thanked Asda for its continued support for Arla cooperative principles, a sentiment echoed by Senior Director of Sustainable Business at Asda, Chris Brown.”Asda has had a strong affiliation with dairy farmers since its formation,” Chris said. He continued that the launch of Arla Farmers Milk in-store would help solidify the supermarket’s reputation of championing the dairy industry and provide consumers the opportunity to support farmers in what he admitted were “challenging times”.

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British Hospitality Association (BHA) Calls for Seaside Tsar to Boost Seaside Tourism

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A regional tsar responsible for driving tourism in the UK’s coastal and seaside towns would be a positive step for the domestic tourism industry, according to the British Hospitality Association (BHA).

A new report commissioned by the association, Creating Coastal Powerhouses, suggests that people living in seaside towns face serious hardships compared with their town, city and countryside counterparts with seaside locals more likely to be unemployed and unemployable thanks to poor education. The report also highlights the prevalence of benefits claimants in the UK’s seaside towns, the high numbers of people living in HMOs and the general discontent and lack of ambition amongst inhabitants.

Citing the Creating Coastal Powerhouses report, Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive of the BHA, also draws attention to declining interest in UK coasts as holiday destination amongst Brits. More than half haven’t visited the domestic seaside in the past three years with 65% describing it as in a state of disrepair and that it needs investment.

The research comes as the department for communities and local government finds that some nine out of 10 of Britain’s most deprived communities are located at the seaside. It’s thought that the shrinkage of shipbuilding and fishing industries, combined with difficult economic conditions and the increased availability of travelling abroad, have rendered coastal and seaside destinations almost obsolete.

Both Ufi Ibrahim and the authors of the report are calling on the government to act and invest in Britain’s seaside resorts with a view to creating enterprise zones that would encourage more businesses to take residence on the coast and, in turn, incentivise domestic holidaying.

The BHA points toward Folkestone and East Devon as where such schemes of government investment have been successful and enabled the regions to recover.


Folkestone: A Model of Excellence

In order to facilitate government investment, the association has produced a seven-point action plan, beginning with the appointment of a Seaside Tsar. A Seaside Tsar – that is, a person or body heading up investment and development plans – would be able to better understand the needs of local communities and form bespoke ambitions and plans for each community.

Ibrahim is positive about the potential of a Seaside Tsar and hopeful the government will enact plans in the very near future. She said that the BHA’s 40,000 members were, on the whole, aware of the challenges faced by seaside destinations and in support of actions to revive and rejuvenate UK coastal resorts.

The UK’s coast attracts more than 250 million visits every year and represents the generation of some £17bn for the economy. The BHA hopes that by working with government and businesses, that annual footfall can increase dramatically.

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John Lewis Targets £1bn Turnover For Homeware

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Big name department store retailer, John Lewis has revealed plans to expand its own brand homeware and furniture arm of the business to the tune of a £1bn turnover by 2020. Not just placing emphasis on growing its own, so to speak, the retailer is also aiming to bolster the number of exclusive relationships it has with leading and independent brands.

At the heart of its plans, John Lewis is prioritising innovative and boundary-pushing design and quality, two characteristics which have, in many respects, defined the business’ long history. As part of that drive, the retail chain is introducing a new collection led by design in Autumn this year – Design Project – which will feature 250 different pieces, all designed in-house by John Lewis’ much celebrated design team.

Despite looking to grow its own brand offering, that’s not to say existing brands face the axe; rather, the department store will continue to build its current brand staples such as the popular House and Croft interior design ranges.

Through partnerships with external designers, John Lewis has already started to launch new design themes and make available new high-end pieces. Via Loaf, for instance, the retailer is launching a small collection comprising five exclusive pieces, customisable in 22 different fabrics. The retailer has also consulted with West Elm and will, very shortly, become the only stockist of West Elm homeware and furniture outside of the business’ own stores. The West Elm range will eventually be rolled out across nine of John Lewis’ stores though, of course, if it’s successful, the retailer may well look at opening up the range across the entire UK.

John Lewis

Investment has led John Lewis’ ambitions for bigger and better and, indeed, make possible the enlargement of its furniture and homeware offering. Some £14m saw the renovation and remodelling of it flagship Oxford Street, London store with particular emphasis on the Home department. In addition, the retailer has established Home Hubs (dedicated Home departments) in new stores in Basingstoke, Birmingham and Horsham which bring together its many services under one central header and in one specific area. The Home Hub concept will also be introduced at new stores in Chelmsford and Leeds later this year.

For Christine Kasoulis, Buying Director for Home at John Lewis, the targeted £1bn turnover reflects the business’ standpoint on matters of design, quality and variety. Avowing her passion for the products created in-house and expressing her confidence in the ability of the design team responsible, Christine described the Design Project collection, specifically, as “visually arresting”, featuring “thoughtfully-designed” pieces which, furthermore, are “made from the best materials”.

With such a commendation and, bearing in mind the long history and success of John Lewis, the retailer’s new commitment to own brand homeware and furniture is certainly one to watch and could well see the department chain elevated even higher in the hearts and minds of consumers.

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Samsung Enjoys Best Profit for 2 Years

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The smart phone market grows increasingly crowded, making profitability and growth amongst manufacturers that much more difficult. No such problem for Samsung however, the firm is reported to have enjoyed its best operating profit for two years after second quarter sales increased by 17.4% compared with last year.

It’s thought that the release and subsequent popularity of the Samsung Galaxy S7 boosted earnings, enabling the leading electronics manufacturers to outperform rivals such as Apple and HTC.

Samsung estimates that profits for the second quarter of 2016 were likely in the region of $7bn, a quarter of million dollars more than was predicted by financial analysts at Reuters. It is Samsung’s best profit since the first quarter of 2014.

As previously stated, it is the mobile phone arm of the organisation that is largely responsible for such success although the question remains as to whether Samsung can retain its lead in the smartphone market with new releases from Apple and cheaper Asian rivals in the pipeline.

Kim Hyun-soo, IBK Asset Management Fund manager, admitted that market conditions would likely be tougher in the latter half of the year with the emergence of new devices. He insisted, however, that the new iPhone – due for release in September – would not dramatically change trading circumstances for they have little new to offer.

At the Galaxy S7 settles into the market place, sales of the device will likely ease though Kim Hyun-soo insists that Samsung ought to be able to retain quarterly earnings of between $6m and $7m for the rest of the year thanks to its memory chips manufacturing business and the launch of its new handset, the Samsung Galaxy Note.

It’s great news for the company following a decline in sales and market share last years at the hands of Apple and its iPhone 6 as well as increasingly competent budget devices by firms such as Huawei Technologies. Whether this short-term gain can become long-term remains to be seen though financial analysts expect the market will be more evenly shared between manufacturers as the years go by.

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Organic Market Worth Nearly £2bn, Reports The Soil Association

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The nation’s taste for organic food is on the up according to recent research by the Soil Association, the UK’s leading membership charity dedicated to sustainable, humane farming and safe, healthy produce.

The Soil Association’s 2016 Organic Market Report suggests that the market grew by nearly 5% last year and is now worth some £1.95bn. Indeed, UK shoppers spent an extra £1.73m per week on organic products last year compared with 2014, a trend which seen worldwide.

It’s the third consecutive year that the organic market has grown; increased sales of both organic groceries and organic health and beauty products (such as make-up) are jointly-responsible. Certainly, the rise in popularity of organic beauty products and, moreover, the increased availability and visibility of organic beauty products has significantly altered the shape of the market. The organic health and beauty market, alone, increased in value by 21.6% compared with 2014 and is now worth a whopping £54.2million.

To put the achievement of the organic market’s growth into perspective, the non-organic grocery market failed to grow at all during 2015 and, in fact, decreased in value by some 0.9% over the same boom period for organics.

The prominence of the “organic” label and increased awareness of the benefits amongst has doubtless contributed to growth of sector. And with increased demand comes increased pressure on retailers to stock organic goods. Thus, the fact that the sales of organic products increased for independent retailers (7.5%) and online retailers (9.1%), and the organic catering sector grew (15.2%) can, in part, be attributed to the rise in organic suppliers and retailers themselves.

It’s therefore unsurprising that the Soil Association’s Catering Mark has proven a popular channel through which to invest in organic amongst retailers; more that £9m was spent on products via the Catering Mark in 2015, an increase of 28.5%.

As for what’s driving the changing in consumer habits, the Soil Association credits the emergence of the ethically-aware and socially-conscious “millennial” market. Young people, the charity suggests, are keener to learn the origins of what they eat and the consequences of their food’s production. “These consumers are willing to pay more for products with quality assurance standards supporting the environment, society and animal welfare,” the Soil Association stresses.

The charity also highlighted the strength of the online retail sector, providing consumers greater choice, flexibility and convenience and thus making organic purchases that much easier.

According to Martin Sawyer, Chief Executive of Soil Association Certification, the Soil Association’s accreditation subsidiary arm, this year could well see the organic market break the £2bn mark. With such a positive growth prediction, retailers, caterers and restauranteurs should take heed of the cultural change and, if they haven’t already, think seriously about the lucrative market that organic is fast-becoming.

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And the Museum of the Year Award Goes to… London’s Victoria and Albert Museum

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London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has bagged the award for the 2016 Art Fund Museum of the Year in recognition of efforts in the creativity stakes. The annual award credits those museums in the UK that have “shown exceptional imagination, innovation and achievement”, gifting them not only the prestigious title of the UK’s best but also some £100,000 in prize money.

The 164-year-old museum, named after then monarch, Queen Victoria, and her husband, Prince Albert, is the world’s largest museum of arts and design with some 4.5 million objects and artefacts permanently housed there. Despite a long history, the V&A has remained as vibrant and pioneering as it was at its establishment; this year plays witness to that stature and has been one of the most memorable 12 months to date.

The museum’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was a particular highlight, enabling the V&A to reach new cultural and financial heights. The show dedicated to the late British fashion designer in fact set a new record for footfall at the V&A and attracted a total of nearly half a million visitors during its run.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition

Over the past year, the Victoria and Albert Museum has also opened a number of new gallery spaces with a view to broadening its artistic offering. The museum now has exhibitions devoted to European Art which traces the transition from the romance of painters such as El Greco and Caravaggio to impressionism and, later, modernism.

The V&A has also reached out to Asia and the Middle East, investing $2.5m in four bronze angels and hosting The Fabric of India, a show which explored the cultural and artistic significance of the country’s textile-making history from the 3rd Century right up to present day.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Fabric of India exhibition

The museum fought off tough competition from named finalists, Arnolfini, the Bethlem Museum of the Mind, Jupiter Artland and the York Art Gallery. HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, announced the Victoria and Albert Museum had been victorious at a ceremony held at the Natual History Museum, South Kensington – another of London’s most popular museums.

On presenting the accolade, judges said the V&A had “indisputably become one of the best museums in the world”. Martin Roth, Director of the V&A revealed the £100k prize money would be spent on building working relationships with other museums around the UK. The museum previously had a department dedicated to supporting and collaborating with other institutions but later dismantled it following budget cuts.

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