The Co-operative Group plans to increase its number of members by more than a quarter next year.

The group, which merged with United Co-operatives in July to create the world’s largest consumer co-operative society, has 2.5 million members, but wants to add 750,000 by the end of its financial year in January 2009.

Co-operative Group chief executive Peter Marks said it will step up its member recruitment through in-store activity, direct marketing and TV and press ads.

The average food basket of the Co-operative Group’s members is more than double that of non-members. “Clearly, if it is driving sales, it drives our bottom line,” said Marks.

The Co-operative Group increased membership by 500,000 since it reintroduced dividend payments last September.

Separately, Marks said that the group will acquire two retail pharmacy chains, adding about 100 stores before the end of the year. This week, Co-operative Pharmacy bought S & C Jones, adding three outlets.