Integrating Somerfield into the Co-operative Group will be easier than last year’s merger with United Co-operatives, the Co-op Group’s CEO has predicted.

Peter Marks is confident he can pull off a seamless integration following the society’s £1.57bn acquisition of Somerfield last month, which remains subject to Office of Fair Trading approval. The integration would be easier because it was “just two big food businesses coming together”, Marks told The Grocer.

United merged with the Co-op Group last July, creating the world’s largest consumer-facing co-op society.

“That was more complicated in terms of integration because we had to integrate the UK’s third-largest retail pharmacy chain, the largest independent travel business and the UK’s number one provider of funeral services.

“Admittedly, Somerfield and the Co-op Group are two very big food businesses, but it’s much simpler.”

The Co-op Group could avoid the well-documented merger problems Morrisons encountered when it acquired Safeway in 2004, Marks added, because of its experience in merging businesses.

“We have substantial experience, not just with United Co-op, but also with the merger of United Norwest and Yorkshire societies. 

“We completed the United Co-op merger ahead of schedule and recorded significant growth while integrating the businesses.”

The Somerfield integration would “take the best bits of the Co-op and Somerfield businesses to create a new business and do it with pace”, while the society’s ongoing store refurbishment programme, would revamp 700 stores by the end of the year.

More than one million people have joined the Co-op Group since its iconic dividend scheme was relaunched two years ago. The society now has 3.1 million members, up from two million in September 2006 when the dividend was relaunched.