Member-owned Nisa, which supports 1,300 retailers and 3,000 stores across the UK, has granted a period of exclusivity to the Co-op to negotiate a potential £140million takeover.
Sainsbury’s had been in pole position to acquire Nisa because it offered the most cash for members immediately but paused discussions this month because of competition fears while it waits to see how a probe by watchdogs into Tesco’s £3.7billion purchase of wholesaler Booker Group pans out.
Nisa chairman Peter Hartley told members that the mutual Co-op had confirmed its intention to progress matters “as quickly as possible”, subject to further due diligence, although he cautioned that “key elements” of a takeover had not been resolved.
Hartley said: “Subject to the results of the due diligence, it is anticipated that the Co-op could be in a position to make a final offer to the members for your consideration.
“Should an offer of merit emerge from this process, it will be for you, the members, to decide on whether to accept it. However, it is important to stress that there is no guarantee that an offer will be forthcoming.
“As you are all aware, our business and the convenience sector continue to evolve at pace and the board of Nisa will continue to review serious queries and offers which emerge (within the constraints of any agreed exclusivity period) and which it believes are in the best long-term interest of the members.”
Nisa has rejected two takeover bids from rival Costcutter. An accepted offer could trigger windfalls of up to £625,000 each for members.
The group rebounded from annual losses of £5.4million to make £2.8million in pre-tax profits in the year to April 2.
It expects to increase annual sales this year from £1.25billion to £1.5billion.
Last night, a spokesman for The Co-op said: “We can confirm that we’ve entered into a period of exclusivity with Nisa, which will provide the opportunity for us to carry out more detailed due diligence in the coming weeks.
Following this period and subject to approval from our board, we hope to be in position where we can put forward an offer.”