Tesco is on course to open its 600th Express convenience store this month, and could soon push well past that with the acquisition of another 21 petrol station sites from Morrisons.

Tesco has already added more than 50 Express stores to its estate this year through acquisition or conversions of other fascias such as One Stop prior to the Morrisons purchase. The deal, which is subject to approval from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), stems from the break-up of the joint venture between BP and Safeway, which resulted in Morrisons putting 30 of the sites up for sale.

BP has exercised its pre-emption rights over nine of the locations, keeping four and selling on five to Somerfield, which will run them under the BP brand. At the recent Insight convenience conference, Tesco Convenience chief executive Colin Holmes revealed that the conversion of One Stop stores to the Express format was almost at an end and that the residual One Stop chain - which now stands at 511 outlets - is going from strength to strength and might even be expanded through further acquisitions.

He added that on-shelf availability had become the top priority for the company’s c-store managers, with about half of their former responsibilities for issues such as demand forecasting moved back to head office, freeing up their time to spot the gaps on shelves.

Last month Tesco announced UK sales increases of more than 11% to £14.6bn for the 24 weeks to August 13, 2005, swelling its half-year pre-tax profit to £908m. It also stated that it expected to increase the number of Express stores to 647 by the end of March 2006.