Midlands Co-op yesterday unveiled sales of £359 million in its half-year results to August 12, with a significant increase in profit before distributions and tax.

The society said the results confirmed its strong financial position, enabling it to pursue its strategic plans for growth with confidence.

It added that against an increasingly competitive and challenging trading environment, the society has demonstrated this commitment to growth through investment within its core businesses of retail, travel, funeral and property.

In addition, a key focus of activity has been to develop the society regionally through further consolidation.

In May of this year, Desborough Industrial Society merged with Midlands.

A merger with Ilkeston Consumer Co-operative Society is scheduled for completion on November 5 this year.

This merger is expected to increase the society's sales by over £100 million in a full year.

Gross sales from continuing operations came in at £359 million, marginally down on last year's figure of £365 million.

Profit before distribution and taxation rose by by 56 per cent, from £16.5 last year to £25. million this year, with trading profit in line at £7.9 million.

The society that despite increasing levels of competition, its retail arm notched up sales of £241 million, with like for like sales in stores not facing new competition continuing to show encouraging growth - up just under two per cent.

Convenience stores and supermarkets performed particularly well.

The society's travel business continued to face turbulent trading conditions with tour operators trying to drive more business through their own channels and the increasing use of the internet.

Like for like sales were two per cent lower at £97 million, helped by the continued development of the society's internet-based operations, growth in foreign exchange and expansion of Forward Travel, where sales were up 15 per cent.

The society's funeral business also had a successful half-year with sales increasing by almost £500,000, including arrangement sales, which were up five per cent, despite a national decline in death rates.

In the first half year the society invested more than £9 million in growth, including two new supermarkets in Overseal, near Swadlincote and Osmaston Road in Derby.

Two new post offices opened in Corby, Northamptonshire, and Sheldon, in Birmingham at the beginning of the financial year.

Major refurbishments include Stirchley Superstore in Birmingham, and Wigston Department Store in Leicestershire.

The refurbishment and rebranding of the eight former Metro Group stores, acquired in late 2004, is now substantially completed.

Chief executive, John Fitzgerald, said: "I am delighted with the results for the first six months of the year given the tough trading environment in which we are operating.

"The society has yet again achieved a very robust set of figures and is in an extremely strong financial position for moving forward," he added.