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How Co-op strengthened its food business with tech

Show us a digital transformation and we’ll show you a business planning for its future.

When that business is Co-op, one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives owned by millions of members, its future is all the more important.

Co-op’s plans to grow its food business hinged on having new and improved tech to support its network of stores.  Out would go the tech it had inherited as its business had expanded. In would come a streamlined, cohesive system, designed to help its people get the right things to the right shelves more quickly.

Across more than 2,500 stores, that’s a lot of change. So Co-op asked Deloitte to work alongside it on a project to embed the tech, creating a stronger foundation for its business and bringing new opportunities for its people. 

Watch this Connection Story to find out more about how the transformation is helping the Co-op to better serve customers.

Supporting Co-op’s growth

Since the 19th-century, Co-op has celebrated the ideals of ethical trading and profit sharing.

Today, it’s the country’s sixth-largest food retailer, and remains a consumer-owned co-operative, with social value at its core.

With plans to grow further, Co-op wanted to improve its business. This included being more responsive to the customers and communities that support its stores and being better able to support local suppliers.

But as its food business expanded, Co-op had inherited a patchwork of 30 tech systems, that wasn’t strong enough to support the kind of growth it envisaged.

To meet its ambitions, Co-op needed to put the right tech foundations in place. 65,0000 people and 1,100 suppliers would be impacted, in some way, by new systems. So taking the right approach would be vital.

Deloitte director Carolyn Hicks led a Deloitte and Co-op team that worked on embedding its digital transformation.

Before joining our firm, Carolyn worked for a decade at Co-op's sister company, the Co-operative Insurance Society – naturally, the organisation holds a special place in her heart.

“Co-op and Deloitte have a long history of working in partnership,” says Carolyn. “We share a commitment to make a positive impact in society.

“Our people, especially in Manchester where Co-op’s HQ is based, are passionate about supporting its services.

“The pandemic reinforced just how important food retailers are in communities, so we were especially proud to have the opportunity to help build a stronger Co-op, making sure its new tech was well embedded across its business.”


Benefits for Co-op’s customers and people

Tech-driven business transformations are all different. In this case, one of Deloitte’s main roles was to work alongside Co-op’s teams to manage large-scale change.

This meant helping its people get to grips with the new tech and use it to bring specific benefits for its customers, communities and people.

Meeting local demand, whatever the weather

“As a retailer with lots of local convenience stores, Co-op knows how important it is to meet local needs in different areas,” says Carolyn. “That might mean stocking more local ranges alongside nationally available products. Or even responding to the weather,” Carolyn continues. “Co-op has a lot of weather-driven demand, especially when it’s sunny.”

The tools to grow more sustainably

Co-op’s new systems and processes have provided the tools to understand better than ever what customers want, which is the key to preventing food waste. Now, its tech can analyse sales in real time. This insight means Co-op can quickly supply stores with more of what customers are buying and redirect supplies of what they’re not, meaning less stock wasted – lowering costs and carbon emissions, too.

More fulfilling, value-driven roles for its people

As the new tech was embedded, Deloitte played a key role in sharing skills with Co-op’s people – the kind needed to meet the needs of a more digital future. These include specialised change-management skills, so the company can manage future change in house. There’s also an SAP centre of excellence to manage the new tech, moving forward. And with data now flowing automatically on to the system from suppliers, what used to be data-entry roles have become more specialist, focusing on data analytics. 

A stronger Co-op

The collaboration helped to create a stronger business. But for the Deloitte team who worked alongside Co-op’s people, it was about more than that.

“It also created new opportunities in the form of new, collaborative ways of working across teams. And the valuable skills it helped to build in Co-op will benefit its business for years to come,” said Carolyn.

At the end of project, it was rewarding to know that many of Co-op's people had learnt specialist skills they could use in their future careers.”

Co-op employee, Northumberland

“If the right stuff isn’t there, you can’t get it to the customer. We want to showcase the diverse range of stock we have and get it to store. Having this system helps us to do it.”

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