The Co-operative Group is to create 7,000 jobs as it gears up to take on the big four grocers.

The Co-op will open around 300 shops across the UK between now and 2013, including one on London’s Strand, meaning there will be a Co-op store in every postal area of the UK.

Chief executive Peter Marks told The Sun: “The Strand is a really important milestone for us. It’s very symbolic.

“We are all about community, and now we will be in every community of the UK bar none. Prince Charles or the Queen could pop in for their top-up shop.”

He added: “We were a business in decline but it’s been transformed in the past three years. Now we’ve got scale and that’s so important in what we do.”

The Co-op bought Somerfield in a £1.6bn deal two years ago. Sales have slumped at the Somerfield stores over the past year as they switched to the Co-op format.

Marks said this is down to “disruption”. He said: “Every week we’ve been closing 25 for refurbishment.”

He also claimed that the Co-op’s own stores have been “outperforming” the market, with sales up 4.1% between February and July. He also said the snow meant sales leapt over the last week, as shoppers found it harder to drive to out of town superstores.

Marks said: “I believe our stores are as good as anything our competitors have, and the Co-op stores are outperforming the market. That tells me what we are doing with things like our Truly Irresistible range – the equivalent of Tesco’s Finest – are working.”

He said his priority is to drive Co-op membership next year beyond the current six million.