The Co-op has reported rising food sales for the past year despite the tough times faced by the convenience sector.

The retailer reported group sales of £11.5bn for the 52 weeks to 2 January 2021, up from £10.9bn the year before, with food growth of 3.5 per cent. Profits after tax and discontinued items were £49m, down from £69m in 2019.

Co-op said its food sales, which reached £7.8bn, were up 6.9 per cent on a like-for-like basis, while its wholesale business saw sales rise by £200m to £1.6bn. Some 624 new independent stores were signed up by Nisa during the period, as well as 56 new Co-op stores opened.

Responding to Covid shopping trends, Co-op expanded its online offer with 800 Co-op Food stores now delivering to homes.

“In 2020 we lived through a perfect storm, with every part of our lives turned upside down – socially and economically, mentally and physically,' said chief excecutive Steve Murrells. 'Along the way we discovered much about our society, some of it brilliant and inspiring, and some of it quite ugly thanks to the unfairness and inequality Covid-19 has revealed and exacerbated.

“During the last few years, we’ve created a business that is truly focused on delivering clear value and benefits for our members, customers and their communities. All that work proved to be essential in giving us the ability to respond to the immediate and sustained demands which the pandemic brought with it. Our Vision,Co-operating for a Fairer World,was our guiding light throughout, and our response to Covid-19 demonstrated the power of co-operative enterprise and the relevance of co-operative values.”

Co-op gave over £12m to charities and community causes over the year, with a further £15m shared with 4,500 local causes via its Local Community Fund. It also helped FareShare deliver over five million meals, and backed Marcus Rashford's Stop Child Food Poverty Taskforce.

For the year ahead, Murrells warned of 'significant uncertainty' and a highly competitive market, against the backdrop of a worsening economy. 'The Co-op is planning for and dealing with continued lockdowns. We continue to rebuild the Co-op's balance sheet to secure the long-term future of the group.'