The Co-operative Group has offered to sell off more stores – this time to avoid a merger with Lothian, Borders and Angus Co-operative Society being referred to the Competition Commission. The offer to sell 12 stores in Scotland comes a week after the society completed its £1.57bn acquisition of Somerfield after months of tussling with the Office of Fair Trading.

Lothian Co-op, which has 66 food, pharmacy, petrol, funeral and non-food outlets in Scotland, agreed to merge with The Co-op Group in October last year. This week the OFT said the merger “raised competition concerns within the grocery sector in 12 local areas in Scotland where The Co-op Group already had a presence”. This includes areas covered by the Somerfield acquisition.

“Our priority is to secure a package that will safeguard the welfare of Scottish consumers by restoring competition to pre-merger levels in the areas affected,” said Amelia Fletcher, senior director of mergers at the OFT. “If the divestments are not accepted, then a referral to the Competition Commission will be necessary.”

Meanwhile, The Grocer can reveal that at least 13 of the 24 Somerfield/Co-op stores sold to Sainsbury's earlier this month were on the list of 133 stores The Co-op Group was ordered to sell by the OFT. More than 30 other stores have been sold so far because they do not fit the society’s “future portfolio”.