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Despite pandemic challenges, 100-year-old Otter Co-op returns millions to members

Board of directors approved the patronage reimbursement of $5.9 million based on 2021 purchases
Otter Co-op CEO Jack Nicholson says the money stays in the community and recipients are free to spend the cash as they choose. (Special to Black Press Media)

To mark its 100th year anniversary, Otter Co-op is putting back close to $6 million into the pockets of its members – after a “record year” of sales.

The announcement was made at the organization’s annual general meeting last Wednesday, June 1.

CEO Jack Nicholson said despite COVID-19, and other challenges of floods, fires, and unpredictable restrictions, the company was able to maintain profitability.

That translated to $375 million in sales, a whopping $129 million above the previous year, he confirmed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous edition of the story incorrectly stated $375M in profits. That is incorrect, and we apologize for any inconvenience or upset that caused).

“I am very proud of the work achieved,” Nicholson said. “And that your co-operative continues to have the ability to return our profits back to you.”

Nicholson elaborated, noting sales continued to grow while the team did what he called a “fantastic job” holding expenses and keeping the doors open with limited staff due to the pandemic, sick time, and the mounting labour shortages.

“Otter Co-op was proud of all of the growth we were able to achieve throughout 2021, despite the pandemic,” he elaborated.

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Currently, cheques are planned to be mailed in November – to coincide with Giving Tuesday.

The CEO said that a significant portion of the profits stemmed from the liquor division, bringing in sales of $92.8 million.

“This is an increase of over $77 million,” he said. “A result of our growing brand and the acquisition of 21 new sites in 2021.”

READ MORE: New directors elected to Langley’s Otter Co-op board

The gas bars accounted for the lion’s share of sales, $117.3 million – a growth of 31 per cent.

And growth in this sector is expected to continue, he said, with construction set this year on another five gas bars, two more cardlocks, and one additional food store.

“As well, we are working on purchasing several Husky gas bars throughout the province, and converting them to Otter locations,” Nicholson explained.

Board president Angie McDougall praised the people-power behind the positive numbers.

“The entire team across our lines of products deserve our praise and support,” she said. “We must remember this was still in the pandemic, so they face a multitude of challenges.”

In addition to financial growth, Otter also gained 6,600 new members during the past year.

Nicholson alluded that the company’s success is a direct result of the training, development, and the loyalty of its employees and members.

“It is rewarding to know that our loyal team – including the board of directors, management, employee team, and members – remain the key to making Otter Co-op the growing, diverse, and viable business it is today,” he said.

But he admitted – like all other businesses today – the biggest challenge facing Otter continues to be the labour shortage throughout the province, and what he describes as added pressure on the team as they’re forced to serve guests with reduced team members. He reminded “folks to be patient and kind.”

The $5.9 million in patronage reimbursements is on top of more than $450,000 the co-operative will be feeding into sponsorships, scholarships, and other community initiatives.

“Our profits stay right here in our communities, not off to some head office in Toronto or another country,” said the CEO, noting the board has also approved one hundred $1,000 donations to non-profits in communities serviced by Otter Co-op. These contributions will be made during 2022 as part of the 100th anniversary celebrations.

“The message to the community is that Otter is proud to be a different kind of business, supporting the community that supports us. We are a profit-sharing company, and happy to be able to thrive the past few years and continue to give back,” Nicholson concluded.

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Shoppers enter the main Otter Co-op store on Wednesday, June 8. After a record year of sales, members will be getting close to $6 million in profit sharing. (Dan Ferguson/Black Press Media)
Shoppers enter the main Otter Co-op store on Wednesday, June 8. After a record year of sales, members will be getting close to $6 million in profit sharing. (Dan Ferguson/Black Press Media)