THE Co-operative Group's prospects of adding a number of Safeways stores to its c-store portfolio have increased as a result of the Competition Commission's ruling that 53 one-stop and smaller grocery outlets will have to be sold off by prospective new owners Morrisons.
Assuming the long-running Safeways takeover saga is successfully completed by Morrisons, additional small stores ? including 60 BP filling station forecourt stores ? may also be the focus of Co-op Group interest.
All the Safeway bidders ? Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's as well as Morrisons ? were made aware of the Co-op Group's interest in acquiring a number of small stores from them and the Competition Commision's takeover verdict on Friday represents the first essential building block in the process.
Co-op Group spokesman Martin Henderson said the society hoped to acquire additional outlets as a result of Safeway's imminent sale adding: "Should stores come onto the mareket that meet our criteria, we would certainly be interested.
"But it's very early days yet and a lot of numbers and figures that are being bandied about in the media are pure speculation."
Meanwhile the Co-op Group has announced that discount clothing retailer Ethel Austin is to open up to 20 self-contained outlets in Group food stores nationwide in the next 12 months following a successful pilot scheme involving four stores.
Ethel Austin Retail Director, Ray Carroll, said the partnership with the Co-op Group was based on shared values.
He said: "We have already set up four outlets in Co-operative Group premises and more will come on-line before the end of this year in addition to our own stores. We have an excellent relationship with the Co-op and there is a real desire on both sides to take this project forward.
"We have been in talks with other chains about putting our product on their premises and those discussions have been encouraging.
"With the Co-operative Group, we will not only be operating our own outlets with our own staff but we both have particular shared values in terms of the way we approach our customers and our business."
Each concession will take up an average of 1500 sq feet and will employ one full-time manager and four part-time sales assistants.
Simon Musther, Head of Buying, Non-Food in Food, for Co-operative Group Retail said: "The trials we have already carried out with Ethel Austin have exceeded all expectations ? the offering is very popular with our customers and there is clearly great potential in our two organisations working together."