The Co-op has joined forces with service station operator MRH to launch its first ever clutch franchised stores.

The mutual is piloting seven new convenience stores under the deal, all of which will be between 1,000 sq ft and 1,500 sq ft in size.

The first of the shops opens this month in Eastcote, Northwest London.

It comes as the major grocers eye the franchise model as a capital-light method of growth in the lucrative convenience sector.

Morrisons has tied up with Rontec to roll out its Morrisons Daily c-store format on petrol forecourts, while Sainsbury’s is piloting a similar agreement with Euro Garages.

Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe said earlier this month that it was also eyeing the franchise model to woo independent retailers in high street locations, as the supermarket giant struggles to find suitable locations for its Local convenience format.

‘Exciting opportunity’

The Co-op interim retail chief executive Jo Whitfield said: “This is an exciting opportunity for the Co-op to expand its presence further in the convenience sector, which is one of the fastest-growing areas in UK grocery.

“This will enable us to test the franchise model and potentially pave the way for further expansion to move the Co-op brand and our own-brand food into new communities.”

MRH boss Karen Dickens said: “This pilot is an exciting development for MRH, and part of a wider move to increase the retail offering for customers at our sites.

“We look forward to working with the Co-op team as we pilot this model with them, and explore further ways we can ensure our customers time and again choose to visit MRH for their petrol and convenience needs.”