Co-op sells its 774 pharmacies to Bestway for £620m

Co-op store Co-op pharmacy is the third largest pharmacy chain in the UK

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The troubled Co-op group has confirmed it will sell its 774-strong pharmacy chain for £620m to Bestway Group.

The proceeds from the deal will be used to reduce the Co-op's huge debts and invest in other parts of the business.

The transaction, which affects more than 6,500 employees, is expected to be completed in October this year.

The privately owned Bestway group owns the UK's second largest cash and carry wholesaler.

It is the UK's eighteenth largest privately owned company and seventh largest family-owned business.

Richard Pennycook, interim group chief executive of the Co-operative group, said:

"Bestway is acquiring an excellent pharmacy business characterised by the quality and professionalism of colleagues and high levels of customer service.

"Bestway in return is an ideal owner, being a strong family-run group with a proven track-record of putting the needs of customers first," he added.

With this acquisition, Bestway will have an annual turnover of approximately £3.4 billion and a global workforce of more than 32,600 people, with over 11,900 people in the UK.

Zameer M. Choudrey, Bestway group chief executive, said: "We see great potential to grow the business organically and through future acquisitions."

'Alternative business'

In the past year the Co-op group has been plunged into sudden and astonishing crisis because of the emergence of huge losses at its banking arm the Co-op bank.

This forced it to announce plans to sell its pharmacy chain and its farm businesses earlier this year.

Speaking about its farming businesses, a spokesperson for the group said that it had "received significant expressions of interest" from potential buyers.

In 2013 the Co-op bank was found to have a £1.5bn gap in its finances and the bank's former boss, Paul Flowers, has recently admitted possession of drugs including cocaine and crystal meth.

The group then had to relinquish control of the bank as part of a subsequent rescue package, but the wider Co-op organisation still faces big financial and organisational problems, which were highlighted in a report earlier this year by Lord Paul Myners.

The Co-op began as a small shop in Lancashire and has since woven its way into British communities. There is now a Co-op food store in every UK postal district.

The group has almost 8 million members and was seen by many as an alternative business: based on community rather than profit.

Having strong links to the Labour party, the group sponsors many Labour MPs.

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