The Co-operative Group’s chief operating officer for food, Sean Toal, is leaving the society after 14 years to take up the COO role at discount retailer Wilkinson.

In a leadership briefing to all senior managers at The Co-op, seen by The Grocer, head of retail Steve Murrells said: “I know the decision was not one Sean took lightly and I would like to thank him for his 14 years of great service. He has made a significant contribution at all levels, from retail operations director through to his current role of COO.”

Toal was also acting food CEO prior to Murrells’ appointment and Murrells thanked him for the “personal support he has given me over the past two years and the great commitment to the business.”

News of his departure comes two weeks after Co-op group CEO Euan Sutherland categorically denied rumours he had instructed headhunters to conduct a confidential search to find a replacement for Murrells.

A Co-op insider told The Grocer Toal’s departure would clear up any confusion in the sector over the relationship between Murrells and Sutherland.