THE UK's two biggest co-operative groups have launched merger talks.
A tie-up involving the Co-operative Group, which has a string of shops in Huddersfield, and United Co-operatives would create a business with more than 4,000 outlets- ranging from funeral parlours and shoe shops to car dealerships and banks.
Rochdale-based United was formed from one of the UK's oldest co-operative, while the Co-operative - based in Manchester - is the largest in the country with 3.5m members and 70,000 staff.
Co-operative Group includes stores in Holmfirth, Golcar, Almondbury, Slaithwaite, Marsden, Skelmanthorpe, Kirkburton, Crosland Moor, Lockwood and Marsh.
A joint statement said: "The boards of the Co-operative Group and United Co-operatives have agreed to discuss the possibility of merger between their two societies.
"Talks have commenced and a further statement from the two boards will be issued when they conclude."
Neither group would reveal the reasons behind the moves.
The Co-operative Group is the country's largest co-op with an annual turnover of £8bn. It runs 1,700 food shops, 626 funeral parlours and 89 bank branches, as well as travel agencies, shoe shops and more than 400 pharmacies.
United Co-operatives earns £2.5bn a year from a chain of 621 food shops, funeral parlours, pharmacies and travel agents.
United has 930,000 members and employs 16,500 people.
Both businesses already run joint operations - with United stocking its shelves with products made by the Co-operative Group and both of them running an online shopping site.
There are about 35 co-operative groups in the UK.
The first retail co-operative was founded in Rochdale in 1844 as the Rochdale Pioneers Society. It is now part of United Co-operatives.
In 2000, Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Co-operative Retail Society merged, creating the world's largest consumer co-operative.
In 2002, the name was changed to the Co-operative Group.