The Co-op is attempting to sell off scores of former Somerfield stores, just eight years after acquiring them as part of a £1.5bn deal.

The Co-op has understood to have approached a number of potential buyers as it seeks to shed about 100 stores across the UK.

It is thought that more than 40 of these trade under the Co-op fascia, while a further 56 are also being targeted for sale. Of those 56, about 40 are currently leased to third parties, while the remainder have been shuttered.

Sources told Sky News that the trading stores made a profit of about £1m in 2015, while the cost of operating the sites earmarked for sale was about £14m.

The sums suggest that the likeliest buyers would be investors who specialise in turnarounds.

The Co-op declined to comment.

The Co-op added about 800 stores to its estate when it paid more than £1.5bn to buy Somerfield back in 2008.

But the deal saddled the mutual with debt following writedowns in the value of the former Somerfield stores.

Co-op chief executive Richard Pennycook has been battling to shore up the business’s balance sheet, which was further battered in 2013 when it slumped to a £2.5bn loss. That was largely driven by a well-publicised crisis within its banking arm.

As well as rescuing the bank, Pennycook has also offloaded a number of non-core businesses including its pharmacy and agricultural operations as he oversees a turnaround of the group.

Its food division has led from the front, recording like-for-like sales growth of 0.8% during the first half of last year. Kantar figures revealed that the Co-op was the fastest growing grocer, aside from discounters Aldi and Lidl, in January.