The Co-op supermarket said it is creating 1,000 permanent jobs and Pret a Manger launched a new coffee subscription service as the high street continued to shift and adapt since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

City centre shops saw footfall down by 34.3% in August compared to the same month last year, according to data from the British Retail Consortium on Friday, though this was a 7.3% point improvement compared to July.

The Co-op has been one of the winners in the retail sector this year as households increasingly relied on their local convenience store and online grocery shopping during the lockdown, with 27.4% growth for the convenience sector overall in the last quarter according to Kantar, though this has hit other companies that have a heavy tilt towards city centre traffic, such as Pret and Greggs, travel specialists such as SSP and WH Smith, and office property developers.

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Some 50 new stores, all running on 100% renewable electricity, will be opened in the coming months, the Co-op said, with 15 more extended and another dozen or so franchise outlets also opening.

New Co-op supermarkets are planned in Guildford, Leeds, London, Poole and Wrexham, with franchises at Oxford Brookes and Stirling universities, and Barking among the list, while the chain also announced a trial partnership with delivery start-up Pinga to offer zero-emission online grocery deliveries in East London.

The jobs announcement comes a day after announced 10,000 new permanent UK roles, taking the online retailer’s total permanent UK workforce to over 40,000 versus around 55,000 for the Co-op.

On the high street jobs front, yesterday also saw Pret a Manger cut nearly 2,900 jobs due to the UK’s empty city centres amid the coronavirus lockdown, with cafe rival Costa Coffee warning that up to 1,650 jobs are at risk of redundancy

Friday saw companies trying to end the week on a more positive note, with Pret announcing a £20-a-week in-shop coffee subscription service.

With the first month coming for free, this offers caffeine addicts up to five barista-prepared drinks per day — though you have to wait at least half an hour between each one. 

Pret, whose subscribers can order their flat white, cappuccino or long black by email, phone or digital wallet, said the service is part of a “newly developed digital ecosystem will enable Pret to develop insight and data-led products and services many of which are already on trial across London”.

Analyst Clive Black at Shore Capital was sort-of impressed, though he noted that “compounding five cups of coffee, five days a week will mean that such folks will be talking as if consuming helium by Friday eve” and suggested people could use the service to buy a coffee for their mates.

Black added: “The move by Pret is commendable, showing that it is adjusting to the evolving market conditions and doing so in a way that is embracing technology.” 

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That said, the analyst said the structural adjustments taking place in the UK food system, which have someway to run, makes him “nervous” for those food and beverage businesses with major exposure to city centres and travel hubs.

Also on Friday, Debenhams chairman Mark Gifford said trading better than expected.

Though the department store group is in administration, has slashed jobs and closed some stores, Gifford said: “We are sitting with over £95mln in the bank, more than £50mln higher than we expected to have when we went into administration. That’s really changed the whole complexion and prospects.” 

Virgin and Jigsaw job cuts

Elsewhere on the jobs front, Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline said it would make 1,150 job cuts despite getting a £1.2bn rescue deal, while fashion chain Jigsaw said it is closing 17 stores and axing 100 staff after creditors approved a company voluntary arrangement (CVA).

Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress called on the government not to “throw away” the good work of the furlough scheme and letting it end abruptly next month.

With around 11% of workers still furloughed, Downing Street should prevent a “tsunami” of unemployment by targeting funds towards protecting jobs and retraining workers to develop new skills, the TUC said.

Ministers currently plan to soften the financial blow when the scheme ends by paying companies £1,000 for each worker they keep on the pay roll until the end of January, though many feel this will not be enough.