The Southern Co-op has announced a 9% rise in annual income to more than £430m and a 1.6% growth in like-for-like food sales.

The society, which trades across 11 counties in the South of England, also opened 16 new food stores in 2017, bringing the total number to 216.

However, profits were down marginally to £17.1m compared to 2016’s figure of £17.4m.

“That’s because the margin earned on the significant additional sales we achieved last year has been offset by cost increases beyond our control such as National Living Wage, business rates and the Apprenticeship Levy,” chief executive Mark Smith said.

“Amongst other highlights in the year, we have built a strategic partnership with Cook, the highly-regarded specialist frozen food business, following the introduction of items from its range into a number of our stores, and we will grow this further next year,” Smith added.

“2017 was also the first full year of operation for our community engagement strategy ‘Love Your Neighbourhood’, which gives local stores and funeral homes the chance to contribute to the creation of safer, greener, healthier and more inclusive neighbourhoods.”

Overall the Society contributed £1.26m to communities across the south, up 24% on last year. This total reflects Southern Co-op’s own investment alongside colleague fund-raising and donations from members, suppliers and customers. 

A keen focus on staff well-being helped to achieve a colleague engagement score of 84% and in the year ahead the society plans to invest in it further with a new well-being strategy and a “significant two-year investment into upgrading colleague facilities in retail stores”.