The Co-operative Group has returned to profit after what it called a “year of progress”.
The group reported a profit of £72m for 2017, after a loss of £132m the year before when it wrote off the value of its stake in the Co-operative Bank.
As well as its 2,500 food stores, the group, the largest co-operative in the UK, has insurance and funeral businesses and runs 12 Academy schools.
Sales at its food stores rose 3.4% and membership rose by 15% to 4.6 million.
The Co-op is building up its chain of Academy schools – state-funded schools in England which are directly funded by the Department for Education, rather than the local authority.
Mr Murrells told the BBC’s Today programme that the group planned to increase the number of schools that it ran to 40.
On an underlying basis, stripping out one-off items, the group’s profits rose 25% to £65m. Revenue, however, was flat at £9.5bn.
Steve Murrells, Co-op chief executive, said he was “delighted” with the performance, but warned that all markets were highly competitive.
“Today’s results show how much progress we have made. All our businesses have performed well and we have increased profits and reduced debt, while continuing to invest for colleagues, members and customers,” he said.
Last month, it emerged the Co-operative was being investigated by the supermarket regulator over its treatment of suppliers.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) said there was “reasonable suspicion” the retailer had breached its rules.
The Co-op accepted it had “fallen short” and disclosed it had already repaid £500,000 to 110 suppliers.