The Co-op is to launch franchise stores for the first time in its history as part of its aggressive expansion plans.

The mutual will license its brand to independent retailers amid a drive to open around 100 new stores in 2019.

It said it aims to launch a “significant number” of franchised Co-op stores as part of that growth plan.

The Co-op said it would be seeking franchisees “who share the Co-op values and principles”. They will have access to Co-op branded products, which are now stocked in 4,000 stores across the UK following its acquisition of symbol group Nisa.

Franchised stores will also offer shoppers the same access to the Co-op’s membership scheme, which gives customers a 5% reward of any spend on own-brand lines, while a further 1% of spend is donated to local charities.

As part of the drive to secure franchise partners, the Co-op has launched a new website to actively recruit independent retailers.

The Co-op’s head of new channels Martin Rogers said: “This is a significant milestone in our franchise ambition and we’re looking for the right retailers in the right locations to share in our success and help widen the reach of Co-op products.

“We have been trialling our franchise model since last spring, with our fourth store opening this month, and we have seen a minimum 50% uplift on sales in these stores.

“We now have the capability to deliver franchising at scale, offering our award-winning food, in new places to attract new customers and members.”