A Brief History of the Co-Op – Good With Food, Not-So-Good With Money

It’s been 20 years since I worked for the Co-Op.  Or, to be more precise, the Co-Operative Wholesale Society (CWS).  It was gratifying over those years to see the metamorphosis of the business from being a rather quaint, historic organisation that championed ‘caring, sharing’ co-operative values into a dynamic multi-faceted force on the High Street.   It grieves me now to see how far the Group has fallen in the past few years as what can only be described as a ‘casualty of recession’.  The catalyst for this must surely have been its venture into so-called ‘casino banking’ activities.  Until recently, the Co-Operative Bank was a beacon of ‘ethical’ values – and, my goodness, didn’t the banking industry need those! The Co-Operative’s retailing arm appeared to be doing well in the competitive supermarket snake-pit.  Its slogan, ‘Good With Food’, seemed to be glowingly appropriate.  This was all undone by the apparent lack of management control at the heart of its corporate governance, as evidenced by the media exposure of its former Chairman, the Reverend Paul Flowers.     Winning Days…  My involvement with the Co-Op was as a freelance copywriter who worked on various projects in the 1990s.  Memorable among these was a commission to write the CWS entry for a prestigious national food industry challenge where all the big High Street supermarket names were in the frame.  To my pleasant surprise – at a black-tie dinner at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel and hosted by TV personality Sue Lawley – the Co-Op’s entry won second place. Preparing their written submission involved me being shown round the various parts of the Group’s... Read more...