Waitrose & Partners is to pull down the shutters on seven branches as it focuses on profitability, affecting almost 700 employees.

The grocer, owned by the John Lewis Partnership, has exchanged contracts on four branches and will shut the remaining three. Consultations have started with 677 affected members of staff.

Three branches will be taken over by value grocer Lidl – Bromley Burnt Ash Lane in southeast London, Oadby in Leicestershire and Wollaton in Nottinghamshire. The shop in Sandhurst, Berkshire, has been acquired by a purchaser that “has asked not to be named at this time”.

A further three branches – Marlow in Buckinghamshire, Stevenage in Hertfordshire and a small branch at British Airways headquarters near Heathrow – are also to close. The dates of closure are still to be finalised “but the expectation is that the shops will close in the autumn”, Waitrose said.

The grocer will “explore opportunities within the partnership” for affected employees.

Waitrose & Partners director of shop trade Mark Gifford said: “We haven’t taken this decision lightly, but we have to do what’s right for the business as a whole.

“Thanks to the hard work of all our partners, we’re making good progress and Waitrose & Partners is on track for profit growth this year but, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, we haven’t been able to find a way to make these shops profitable in the long term.

“Our priority now is the wellbeing and future of our partners in these shops. We will do everything we can to support them and will explore opportunities for anyone wishing to remain with the partnership.”

Waitrose has 347 shops altogether. It exchanged contracts to dispose of another five shops in March.

In its last financial year, Waitrose & Partners achieved an 18% “rebound” in profits to £203.2m as like for likes rose 1.3%, margins improved and online grocery sales advanced 14%.