There were calls this week for the Co-operative Group’s membership of the Association of Convenience Stores to be revoked following its £1.57bn acquisition of Somerfield in July. Some independents claimed the society’s size post-merger as the UK’s fifth-biggest supermarket - with about 3,000 stores - would make it too powerful to stay in the ACS.

Pareto Retail MD Adrian Costain told the ACS there was a “strong case” for ejecting the Co-op Group and he would consider lobbying for it to leave. His concerns were echoed by other independents. One told The Grocer the Co-op Group was “too big and not in tune with our trade sector,” while another said the Co-op shouldn’t be a member if Tesco and Sainsbury’s weren’t.

“I don’t think it should be a member,” added Budgens retailer Dee Patel. “The ACS is there to protect independents. If it accepts the Co-op Group, it may as well accept everyone.”

However, many retailers backed the Co-op’s membership. “Pareto should be glad it was the Co-op Group that bought Somerfield and not one of the big four,” said one retailer. “The Co-op is an integral part of the ACS,” added independent retailer Nigel Dowdney. “It has one vote and therefore we should not see its future growth as posing any threat at this point in time.”

Costain, who last week said he had expressed concerns about the Somerfield acquisition to the OFT, added he would accept the Co-op Group as a member if it considered sharing its buying power with independents.

This was why the Co-op Group should remain a member, said Kishor Patel, MD of Houghton Trading. “A powerful player should be welcomed,” he said. “The independent sector may have more of an opportunity to have an alliance with the Co-op than with other retailers.”

The ACS said most of its members thought the Co-op Group was an important member. The Co-op Group said it was inappropriate to comment because the Somerfield deal was still subject to OFT scrutiny.