The recent opening of a new Cook store in Tunbridge Wells has paid off after the company confirmed it had broken all previous records for Christmas sales.
Cook, which sells gourmet frozen foods produced in Kent, opened its new Tunbridge Wells shop on Monson Road in November.
It is located just a few doors down from its previous premises, which were substantially smaller, and has proven to be hugely popular with customers.
But the new store is proving to be a boon for the company, with sales over the Christmas period 88 per cent higher than in 2014.
By breaking the record on weekly sales in the run up to Christmas, the Tunbridge Wells shop has overtaken Sevenoaks, which has held the record since 2012.
Commenting on the success of the new Tunbridge Wells store, managing director Edward Perry said: “We are delighted how the people of Tunbridge Wells appear to have taken it to their hearts.
“We always had the vision for the shop to be at the heart of the local community and so far we’ve been able to help out nine local community organisations with food for events or fundraising.”
The news comes after Cook announced like-for-like sales across the company during the six week Christmas period totalled £7.4 million, up 6.6 per cent on 2014.
Sales growth at the company for the year was curtailed, however, by the allocation of too much space to ‘seasonal lines’ during the summer, which the company admitted was ‘a bit of a damp squib.’
Furthermore, ‘fierce’ competition meant the sale of single and double portion meals was ‘challenging’.
Total revenue across its 83 shops was £49.9 million over 2015, up from £45.5 million the previous year.
This annual sales growth of 2.7 per cent was described by the company as: “Decent enough, but not quite where we want to be.”
But earnings before tax was more positive, increasing by 32 per cent during 2015 to £4.1 million, compared to £3.1 million in 2014, leaving room for the company’s first ever dividend payout of £400,000.
However, Cook said it would maintain its ambitious target of hitting sales of £75 million per annum by 2019, forecasting a growth rate of 15 per cent a year.
Concessions were the key to the company’s growth, with new products bringing a ‘big improvement’ in product margins, and sales increasing 19 per cent to £8 million on the previous year.
In addition sales of ‘party foods’ and four-portion meals were also robust.
Looking ahead, Cook’s annual report high-lighted the future challenges and opportunities for the business.
It said: “It doesn’t require any great insight to see that the food retail landscape continues to change at an extraordinary pace.
“The rise of discounters, such as Aldi and Lidl; the acute pain being felt by the big supermarkets; and the exponential growth of online shopping are the big trends.”
The Cook story
Cook was founded in 1997 by Edward Perry and Dale Penfold in Farnham Surrey on the back of a £20,000 bank loan.
The idea behind the company is encapsulated in its founding statement:
“To cook using the same ingredients and techniques that a good cook would use at home so all our food looks and tastes homemade.”
But growing the company to the 83 stores it has today was not an easy task, with the pair spending the first three years ‘in a mire of stress and torment trying to figure out how to make the food taste good’.
Mr Perry said: “While Dale was a great chef and I was a pretty good retailer, our combined administrative skills were virtually non-existent.
“In our first three years, for example, we hadn’t seen the need to keep any accounts.
“This was partially due to my own ineptness but also because I knew that if we saw any proper numbers then they would certainly tell us we should close the business.”
The pair struggled to secure funding for growth, due to the poor accounts, but a merger with a bakery business operated by Mr Perry’s brother James in 2000 resulted in the company that is around today.
Mr Perry added: “The next seven years were a frenzy of growth as we expanded as fast as we could while retaining our independence.”
The onset of the credit crisis was a particularly ‘traumatic’ time for the company as it had borrowed a ‘ludicrous’ amount of money at the same time sales collapsed.
But the firm refused to compromise on ingredients, and after the worst of the recession had passed their rapid expansion resumed, and the company founded by two friends now employs over 700 people.