Waitrose has kicked off its most ambitious conversion programme to date, with the five stores it bought from Somerfield in March set for rapid turnarounds.

The two London stores in the package were handed over to Waitrose last week, marking the start of the process. The first store, in Balham, will open next week after a 14-day refit, while the Barbican store will open the following week as a result of the restrictions of its location within a heavily residential area.

The other three stores will also have a two-week turnaround, with Buxton opening on May 25, followed by Waitrose's first two stores to open north of the border, both in Edinburgh, on June 1. The 'Turin' conversions follow two years of similar projects, with the 'Toronto' conversions of 19 Safeway and Morrisons stores in 2004 and the 'Toronto 2' conversions of a further five Morrisons stores last year.

Tim Smit, head of selling developments and leader of the Turin project, said he was confident that everything was in place to bring the five branches, as well as the 500 new staff, up to scratch in record time.

Gary Davis, group personnel manager, added: "We have an army of people prepared to give their time and skills."