The beleaguered Co-operative Group has confirmed that it will sell its entire pharmacy chain to Bestway, the privately-owned UK cash and carry operator.

Co-op agreed to sell its 774 pharmacy stores for £620m (€784m, $1.1bn) in a bid to wipe off some of its £1.4bn of debt.

The transaction is due to be finalised in October, which could see 6500 staff affected by the switch.

"The successful sale of our Pharmacy business is an important move for The Co-operative Group," said Co-op interim group chief executive Richard Pennycock.

"The proceeds will enable The Co-operative to reduce debt and invest in our business and is part of the focused delivery of our clear strategic plans and priorities."

Bestway and its Batleys brand together operate 62 wholesale retail branches across England, Scotland and Wales catering to some 125,000 retailers, making it the UK's 18<sup>th largest privately owned company.

Bestway was launched when Sir Anwar Pervez opened his first convenience store in London's Earls Court in 1963. He noticed the growing demand among the capital's Muslim community for halal meat and other halal food products, opening more stores in West London and then further afield.

At first blush, a family-owned private business appears to be the diametric opposite to the Co-op model. Sir Anwar states that he is a champion of small retailers, describing himself as a "Thatcherite" who has tried to stem the decline of local community stores in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK.

Bestway says that with the Co-op's pharmacy division under its belt, it will have an annual turnover of approximately £3.4bn and a worldwide workforce of over 32,000 people.

Zameer M Choudrey, chief executive of the Bestway Group, said: "We always look to take a long term approach and have a strong track record of successfully growing businesses that have previously been acquired within the group. We are confident that we will continue to do so with this business."

The Co-op has been swamped by severe management failings, painful losses in its banking division, and falling food sales in its supermarkets.