Last year's merger between the UK's two largest co-operative businesses - CWS and CRS - to form the Co-operative Group, is paying dividends.

Sales and consolidated profit at the food to finance, and farms to funerals Group, rose by 10.8 per cent to £2.5 billion and 36 per cent to £84 million respectively in the half year ended 30 June, 2001.

The main growth came from food retailing, travel and banking. The new Welcome brand of convenience stores produced like-for-like sales up 5.4 per cent, well ahead of the market, while Travelcare increased sales by 20.6 per cent to £194 million. This helped lift the Group's trading profit by £12.1 million to £25.7 million.

The Co-operative Bank, once again, produced a strong performance with profits up £5 million to £60.2 million.

Said Graham Melmoth, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group: "The benefits of the merger are now beginning to show through in increased profitability. Nevertheless, it has been a tough half year for some of our businesses, farming in particular, and the second half is unlikely to be any easier."