Alliance Boots and The Co-operative Group are understood to be considering buying some of the 500 stores of UK pharmacy chain Rowlands, which was put up for sale following the death of German business tycoon Adolf Merckle.

Both retailers are interested in stores, but are not said to want the entire business. Billionaire industrialist Merckle’s business Phoenix UK – which owns Rowlands – was put up for sale earlier this month.

Alliance Boots owns the UK’s largest pharmacy chain Boots and The Co-operative Group is the UK’s third biggest pharmacy.

Merckle was once ranked as one of the 100 richest men in the world with an£8.5bn personal fortune. He committed suicide as the banking crisis hit his empire.