Tim Hurrell, the head of The Co-operative Group‘s food operations, is to retire at the end of the year.

Hurrell became chief executive of The Co-op’s food business when it merged with fellow UK retailer United Co-operatives in 2007.

He played a role in The Co-op’s move two years later to buy Somerfield, a deal that made it in the UK’s fifth-largest grocer.

“Now that the integration of Somerfield into the Group is complete, I believe the time is right to hand over the reins to someone who can oversee the next phase of development,” Hurrell said.

Chief executive Peter Marks said Hurrell had made a “massive contribution” to the business. He added: “This is an exciting time for The Co-operative Group and for our food business, in particular. Over recent years we have transformed the business and are well placed for the next phase in our development as the UK’s favourite community retailer.”

Last month, The Co-op reported a 21.1% fall in underlying operating profit from its food arm for the six months to 2 July. Sales slid 4.6%. Marks said then that trading conditions in the UK were the “worst I have seen in 40 years of retailing”.

Sean Toal, commercial director of The Co-op’s food operations, will become acting chief executive of the division while the retailer looks to appoint a permanent replacement for Hurrell.