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The Co-op Group has announced plans to open 100 food stores across the UK in 2018 to create an estimated 1,600 new jobs.

The community retailer will invest over £160m in new stores and major makeovers for a further 150 of its outlets over the course of the year.

It said more than 20 new stores are set to open in London, up to 18 stores are planned for Scotland, while new stores are lined up for Blackpool; Bristol; Chesterfield; Crewe; Leicester; Manchester; Nottingham; Plymouth; Southampton and York.

The news follows the double announcement last month that the group will become the exclusive wholesale supplier to the 2,200 stores across the Costcutter Supermarkets Group network from spring 2018, while members of Nisa Retail also voted in favour of the Co-op’s offer to buy the delivered wholesale and convenience retail specialist.

Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food said: “The Co-op is positively responding to the changes occurring within this dynamic sector. Our Food business is going from strength to strength in what is clearly a challenging retail market. We have the ambition for our stores to be at the heart of local life, bringing communities together and offering our Members and customers great quality products when and where they need them.”

Stuart Hookins, Co-op’s Director of Portfolio and Development, added: “The Co-op’s extensive acquisitions and refit programme is a fundamental part of our food strategy. Moving forward with a clear purpose and momentum, our expansion plans for 2018 will mean that the Co-op is on track to have opened at least 100 new stores in each of three consecutive years.

“With over one million new active Members joining us in the last year, we are always looking for new locations to get closer to where our Members and customers live and work and to meet their shopping needs conveniently.”

Co-op said the new-look stores will “focus on offering a wide range of fresh, healthy foods, meal ideas and essentials, alongside increased ranges of own-brand and locally-sourced produce”.

Morning update

As expected it’s a quiet first day of 2018 on the markets this morning ahead of a flurry of Christmas trading updates over the coming days and weeks.

The UK business community has paid tribute to Compass Group (CPG) CEO and former Tesco (TSCO) non-exec board member Richard Cousins, who tragically died with four other members of his family aboard an seaplane in Australia on New Year’s Eve.

The FTSE 100 catering group confirmed the news yesterday. Group chairman Paul Walsh said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news. The thoughts of everyone at Compass are with Richard’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.

“It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for the last few years. Richard was known and respected for his great humanity and a no-nonsense style that transformed Compass into one of Britain’s leading companies.”

Cousins had been due to retire on 31 March 2018. His planned replacement Dominic Blakemore will now assume the role immediately.

Also this morning, Marks & Spencer (MKS) has confirmed the sale and franchise of its retail business in Hong Kong and Macau to its long-established franchise partner Al-Futtaim. The sale, which completed on 30 December, sees Al-Futtaim become the new sole franchisee for M&S in Hong Kong and Macau.

Al-Futtaim has worked in partnership with M&S since 1998 when it opened Dubai’s first M&S store. Following the purchase of 27 Marks & Spencer stores in Hong Kong and Macau, Al-Futtaim now operates 72 Marks & Spencer stores across 11 markets in Asia and the Middle East.

Paul Friston, Marks & Spencer’s International Director, said: “We have substantially reshaped our International business, which has improved profitability and positioned us for growth. As one of the world’s leading retail operators, with strong logistics capabilities and local expertise, Al-Futtaim is the ideal partner for us to develop and grow our business in Hong Kong and Macau.”

On the markets this morning, The FTSE 100 has kicked off the year down 0.1% to 7,672.1pts.

Early risers include PayPoint (PAY), up 1.5% to 927p, Nichols (NICL), up 1.5% to 1,565.5p, Dairy Crest (DCG), up 1.5% to 585p and Greencore (GNC), up 1.4% to 232.9p.

Fallers include Applegreen (APGN), down 2% to 480p, Conviviality (CVR), down 2% to 395.7p, Worldpay Group (WPG), down 1.3% to 420.4p, Unilever (ULVR), down 1.2% to 4,076p and AG Barr (BAG), down 0.9% to 660.5p.

This week in the City

The supermarket Christmas trading updates do not kick-off until next week (starting with Morrisons (MRW) on 9 January), but there will be a smattering of other scheduled announcements over the coming days.

High street bellwether Next (NXT) will update the market on its Christmas sales performance tomorrow morning. Worries over the fashion retailer’s performance could suggest a gloomy Christmas for non-food retailers.

In the US Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) will announce its first quarter results on Thursday, while Monstanto announces its own Q1 results and updates on its R&D on the same day.

Eastern European-focussed Stock Spirits Group (STCK) releases a pre-close trading statement on Thursday.

The first BRC Shop Price Index of the year is due to be released on Friday morning.