Waitrose today (15 December) denied it has agreed to buy 13 stores from The Co-operative Group as part of the Co-op's bid to win regulatory approval for its takeover of fellow UK retailer Somerfield.

Reports in the UK claimed Waitrose had been lined up as a buyer of the stores from the Co-op, which is looking to ease competition concerns over the GBP1.6bn (US$2.4bn) deal.

The disposals were ordered by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in areas of the UK it believes could have suffered a reduction in competition as a consequence of the takeover.

The Co-op must sell 126 stores in total under the terms of the deal and earlier this month it said it had sold a batch of 58 stores to buyers including Morrisons, Tesco, Lidl, Spar and the Musgrave Group.

However, a spokesperson for Waitrose told just-food that reports linking the upmarket retailer to a possibe deal with the Co-op were speculation.

"We are always interested in buying new sites from any vendor and we wouldn't rule it out in the future but we are not currently in discussions with any vendor to buy Co-op stores," the spokesperson said.

The Co-op and the OFT both declined to comment.