Morrisons has kicked off the long-awaited move to its new multimillion-pound head office in Bradford, also admitting that it had fallen behind its rivals during its protracted integration of Safeway.

However, chief executive Bob Stott insisted that, as "one Morrisons", it was now ready to "take the fight" to its rivals.

The challenge came as the supermarket sent out its annual report last week to shareholders ahead of its AGM on May 25. It coincided with the start of the mammoth task of moving 1,600 staff to a state-of-the-art purpose-built headquarters this week. The new HQ represents the first time that the enlarged supermarket's head office staff have all worked under one roof. "The process of becoming one team will take time," said Stott. "But with common goals and values, I am confident that this will be achieved. We respect our competitors and recognise that they have moved on in the two years during which we have been focused on absorbing Safeway. Our optimisation plan, now under way, will see us take the fight to our rivals."

Having opened seven stores in the past year, the 378-store chain will open just four this year and eight in 2007. One analyst expressed concern, saying that Morrisons would need to step up its long-term programme as the local authority planning process can take more than five years.

The phased move to its new 331,000 sq ft Bradford HQ will not be completed until July. It is ten times the size of the previous Hilmore House and has been built with a green emphasis.