Peter Marks, chief executive of United Co-operatives, has promised a ramped-up acquisition programme if United merges with the

Co-operative Group.

?Marks, ?who will become chief executive of the enlarged society if the deal goes ahead, ?said there would be a "two-pronged attack" on growing the merged business through acquisitions and organic growth.

United has set aside £150m to invest in its estate, and last year, the Co-operative Group's food boss Guy McCracken said the society was in the market for buying businesses.

"With the combined business, the investment will be significantly more [than £150m]," said Marks this week. "Post-merger we will look at the capital expenditure for food, combine the two and have a good look at it."

The new super co-op would look to acquire both operational businesses and new sites, and would extend and refurbish

existing stores, said Marks, who revealed he was currently eyeing a number of businesses.

The merger, which would create a business with a turnover of £9.4bn and a 4.5% share of the grocery market, was an "essential process", he said. "The co-operative movement is fragmented and this is a major step to bring it together. There is a real business synergy. We can save money, invest in better shops, products and prices and improve our competitive position."

Marks admitted store branding was fragmented, but said United Co-op was still to decide whether to adopt the Co-op Group's new green 'The Co-operative' fascia on its food stores.

United Co-op has used the fascia in recent refurbishments, but has chosen to keep its own distinctive aqua colouring.

United Co-op this week reported a 5.9% increase in like-for-like food sales for the year to 27 January.

Total food turnover rose 10% to £1.014bn, boosted by the acquisitions of the Leeds and Sheffield Co-operative Societies earlier this year.