The Co-operative Group will not get its hands on the keys to Somerfield before mid-February 2009, chief executive Peter Marks has revealed.

Speaking at the group's half-yearly meeting in Manchester earlier this month, Marks said it would take time to sell the 126 stores requested by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Some 38 of the group's larger stores were snapped up by Morrisons in a £223m deal concluded earlier this month.

Marks also revealed that the OFT's ruling not to refer the society's £1.565bn bid for Somerfield to the Competition Commission was a "knife-edge decision".

The regulatory body had been "very concerned" about local competition issues, he said.