Budgens is taking on Spar and Londis in its fight to attract entrepreneurial retailers.
It is encouraging applications from all interested parties as it forges a future as a franchise-only operation.
The retail chain’s Irish parent company Musgrave is seeking independent retailers to take ownership of all the 172 stores it owns by 2007.
A further 60 stores are already operated on a franchise basis.
But Musgrave UK executive chairman Eoin McGettigan, who is responsible for Budgens, said the chain would need to deploy more resources to recruit the right kind of entrepreneurs.
He emphasised that the announcement by Musgrave did not represent a change of policy.
“This is not something we have suddenly decided to do. It’s more a statement of intent, so people don’t think we are doing it by stealth, especially as there will be a hotline service.
“As we said at our supplier conferences, we will sell off company-owned stores as and when.”
He added that the company wanted to make its position clear because it had sold a store in Soham and people were asking whether it was a one-off move or not.
Musgrave Group managing director Seamus Scally said: “We will be welcoming applications from all interested parties, in particular from entrepreneurs who wish to carve out a proftable career in food retailing, existing independents and those with experience in supermarket management.
“We will not simply be looking for the highest bidder. It will be vital that the people who buy these stores share Musgrave’s commitment to community-based retailing.”
Scally has long been a passionate advocate of owners running their own stores and in the Republic of Ireland Musgrave supplies franchised SupaValu and Centra stores.
Elaine Watson