UK retailer The Co-operative Group has booked an increase in first-half profits, despite what it described as a “challenging” year to date.

For the 23 weeks to 3 July, underlying profits amounted to GBP260m (US$404m), a 17% increase on last year.

Operating profits rose 14% to reach GBP307m.

Sales climbed 8% to GBP6.9bn, while total like-for-like sales dropped 1%, impacted by the disruption of the Somerfield integration. Like-for-like food sales in rebranded and refitted stores however, were up 2.5%

Peter Marks, group chief executive, said: “As anticipated, 2010 has been challenging so far, with tough economic conditions across all our businesses. Looking ahead, however, we do not expect things to improve until late 2011 at the earliest. Our focus, as ever, is on our customers and our members; ensuring that we drive our value message through every aspect of our business to their advantage.”

Click here to view the full earnings release.