Frozen ready meals retailer Cook is set to open up its offer to other retailers in its first move into franchising.

Cook, which has 32 stores in south east England, is finalising a ­franchise package that will allow other businesses to run Cook-branded stores.

"The franchise package is ready to go and we plan to open three or four before Christmas," said co-founder Edward Perry.

"We are primarily targeting owners and managers - people who have a love of good food, can deliver fantastic customer service and want to run their own business."

Perry said the chain, which currently allows independent retailers, delis and farmshops to stock its products in Cook-branded freezers, had received a "pretty massive" response since the franchise package was mentioned in its April newsletter.

Meanwhile, Cook is talking to foodservice operators who are looking for high-quality product.

Cook made its first move into foodservice in January by supplying four meals for the Little Chef in Popham, Hampshire, which is trialling a new menu created by chef Heston Blumenthal.

It is supplying chicken tikka, coq au vin and macaroni cheese, as well as a children's option.

Perry said Cook was pleased with its sales volumes, although Little Chef was still deciding whether to roll out the new menu across its estate.

Perry was upbeat about the business despite the economic downturn.

He said that customers were "hunkering down" by buying one or two-portion meals instead of puddings and four-portion meals.

"At Cook, one sort of ­balances out the other, so we'll get through this OK," he said.

The chain has also launched a new loyalty scheme called the Cook Crunch Card.

Shoppers collect a stamp each time they spend more than £5 in a Cook store and receive £10 worth of free food once they have spent £100. The scheme follows a successful voucher offer run in local papers last month.