Upmarket UK retailer Waitrose said yesterday (15 January) it is to buy 13 stores from the Co-operative Group and open nine new outlets in 2009 - moves that will create 4,000 jobs.

The grocer said it has entered into a conditional agreement with the Co-operative Group arising out of the group's acquisition of Somerfield.

The deal came as Waitrose said it also plans to open "at least" nine new branches through organic growth this year.

The 22 confirmed shops will take the Waitrose estate to 220 stores in the UK, an increase of over 5% to its existing portfolio.

The retailer is expected to start a programme of conversions and openings on the acquired stores in the spring. Over 1,000 employees at the 13 Somerfield stores will join Waitrose with a further 500 new jobs created at these branches.

All new employees will become partners within the John Lewis Partnership, which means they become co-owners of the business and receive an annual share in profits. The nine new stores will result in over 2,000 store jobs with an additional 500 in operational support.

Waitrose managing director, Mark Price, said: "I'm delighted to announce the biggest period of growth in the history of Waitrose. There is a real weight of evidence that businesses that continue to invest during tough economic times fare much better when the economy begins to recover. Our new shops will help ensure Waitrose is in the best shape possible coming out of the recession.

Waitrose said it plans to target more than two million new customers with the stores that will increase its presence in Wales, Tyne and Wear, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire and the South West.

The downturn in the UK has put pressure on Waitrose. According to figures from TNS Worldpanel, Waitrose saw its sales dip 0.1% in the 12 weeks to 28 December.

TNS said Waitrose's share of the UK grocery market stood at 3.7% - down from 3.9% a year earlier.