The Competition and Market Authority (CMA) has served an enforcement order on Northern Ireland Spar retailer and distributor Hendersons, putting the group’s acquisition of five stores from McColl’s on temporary hold.

The stores were originally in a tranche of outlets acquired by McColl’s from the Co-operative Group, and Hendersons completed the purchase of the shops in November. However, the CMA has said it wishes to investigate the acquisition due to competition concerns under the Enterprise Act.

The CMA statement said: “The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has reasonable grounds for suspecting that it is or may be the case that Henderson Retail Limited and a portfolio of stores owned by Martin McColl Limited have ceased to be distinct.

“The CMA is considering, pursuant to section 22 of the Act, whether it is or may be the case that a relevant merger situation has been created and whether the creation of that situation has resulted or may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition in any market or markets in the United Kingdom (UK).”

The shops are in Bangor, Craigavon, Ballymena and two in Newtownabbey. While the investigation is being carried out, Hendersons will not be allowed to integrate the five stores into its estate.