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NewsWorks chief Rufus Olins poached to lead Co-op’s membership scheme

Rufus Olins, the chief executive of NewsWorks, is to leave the newspaper marketing body to join the Co-op in the newly created role of chief membership officer.

The Co-op’s membership programme is a key pillar of the once-ailing supermarket’s revival, with chief executive Richard Pennycook saying recently that he hoped Co-op members would generate at least half of sales across the businesses.

As such a raft of new benefits would be rolled out, including a five per cent discount on own-brand products and services alongside the guarantee that one per cent of the money they spend will go straight back into helping the local community and suppliers.

Olins is to lead the effort to not only communicate the membership offer, but also development its strategy to keep hold of the eight million members to have signed up.

“It’s been a wonderful journey. I have huge respect and affection for my team at Newsworks and an undiminished belief in the important role played by the UK’s press,” he said. “Now I have been offered an extraordinary new opportunity, which I have found impossible to resist.”

He joins at a crucial point in the company's trajectory. Earlier this year, the Co-op overhauled its branding in an effort to remind customers of its place in the community, reviving the 'cloverleaf’ logo 30 years after it was shelved.

While it has remained the UK's sixth-biggest food retailer thanks to the convenience model it has long championed, it has nonetheless had to fight to maintain its place among the rising presence of Lidl and Aldi and aggressive discounting of its 'Big Four' rivals.

Pre-tax profit plummeted 81 per cent in 2015 to £23m after the previous year's figures were inflated by the £121m it gained from the sale of its farms and pharmacies arms.

A Co-op spokesperson said: “We are delighted that Rufus Olins will be joining our Co-op as chief membership officer. He will be at the centre of delivering the changes to our membership which we announced at our AGM earlier in the year. We are making Co-op membership more engaging and more rewarding and putting the Co-op back at the heart of communities.”

At NewsWorks Vanessa Clifford, currently deputy CEO of Newsworks, will take over as interim CEO.

David Pattison, Newsworks chairman, praised Olins for a "brilliant job" during his tenure.

"I am delighted that Vanessa has accepted the challenge to take Newsworks forward. Rufus goes with our thanks and our best wishes," he added.