The Co-operative Food has taken its first steps into online grocery with the launch of a click-and-collect service.

The retailer, part of the Co-operative Group, will introduce the online grocery service at its Marple store in Stockport, Retail Week can reveal.

The mutual will open the service to staff this week ahead of its roll-out to the public next month.

Co-operative retail chief Steve Murrells revealed in August that the retailer plans to launch online via four different trials, the first of which would begin before Christmas.

A Co-operative spokeswoman said: “The soft launch is aimed at Marple store staff and is due to launch later this week. Once this is evaluated, the trial for online collections at the Marple store will be extended to members and customers.”

The Co-op already operates an online electricals business.

The initiative comes as Murrells aims to halt declining sales at the food business while Co-operative Group chief executive Euan Sutherland is fighting to lead the wider business out of a cloud of controversy enshrouding its bank.

The Co-op has been in the spotlight since the former bank chairman Paul Flowers was alleged to have purchased illegal drugs.

Chancellor George Osborne has ordered an inquiry into affairs at the bank while Lincolnshire Co-op chief executive and Co-op chairman Ursula Lidbetter is to lead an internal review of the group’s structure. She succeeded former chairman Len Wardle who brought forward his retirement last week.