Makro Cash & Carry UK has joined The Today's Group - becoming its biggest member - in a shock move that could bring a merger between the UK's two biggest buying groups closer.

Wholesale industry experts have predicted that Today's massively boosted buying power will make Landmark Wholesale more likely to want to develop a closer relationship with the Scunthorpe-based group.

And Today's Group MD Rodney Hunt confirmed a collaboration between the two was a possibility. "We are not talking about a merger," Hunt insisted. "But there has to be grounds for a discussion about working more closely with Landmark. We would be prepared to talk about collaborating in some way.

"However, anyone involved in such an alliance would have to believe, like Today's, in operating with transparency and in a democratic fashion."

Discussions between Today's and Makro began as early as last January.

Makro will become a group three member - meaning it will not take part in the group's promotional activity but will add considerable weight to its overall buying power. Like most wholesaler members, it will continue to be supplied directly by suppliers so the deal will have no impact on capacity at Nisa-Today's warehouse in Scunthorpe.

A leading industry source said Landmark would come under pressure from members to seek an alliance with Today's as its members could soon be able to offer much better prices.

"Today's Group wholesalers could become a more attractive prospect for independent retailers so Landmark may be forced to develop a relationship with Nisa-Today's," he claimed.

Landmark refused to comment on what impact the deal would have on its business at this stage.

While rumours have persisted for some time about Nisa-Today's merging with Landmark or being taken over by Bestway, the Makro deal has taken the industry by surprise.

"I believe a great deal of credit must go to Rodney Hunt," said Alan Toft of the FWD. "This deal is a huge vote of confidence in Nisa-Today's. Rodney Hunt has risen above the troubles of last year's failed Costcutter merger and emerged with great dignity."

Makro, which is part of German grocery giant Metro Group, is currently number nine on The Grocer's list of the UK's Big 30 leading wholesalers. It generates a turnover of £1.1bn from 33 depots across the country and employs more than 6,350 staff.

Philipp Dautzenberg, who left his role of MD of Makro Cash & Carry UK at the end of the year to run the company's operation in Portugal, said: "With Today's as a partner on the buying side we will be able to further strengthen our offer for the independent catering and retail sector."

Hunt claimed the deal was good news for the wholesale sector, suppliers and independent retailers.

"News from the Competition Commission may not necessarily be favourable and we have to look at ways of supporting the wholesale sector and driving it forward. Even if the news is good, it is unlikely to be a cure-all solution and businesses have to deliver for themselves."