Central England Co-op is to close three warehouses in Leicester in a major restructuring of its distribution operation, putting 400 jobs at risk.

The society, which trades as Central Co-op, has more than 400 supermarkets, shops and funeral homes in the Midlands and East Anglia.

Central Co-op’s distribution operation, which is based in Scudamore Road, Leicester, has three warehouses on the Braunstone Frith Industrial Estate, including two food distribution centres totalling 120,000sq ft and a chilled distribution centre, totalling 42,000sq ft.

Under the restructuring, Central Co-op’s distribution operation in Leicester will move to the LIDIA network - a national collective distribution and logistics operation, which is owned by Manchester-based Co-op Group and already serves more than 4,000 stores and operates 13 distribution centres.

Debbie Robinson, chief executive at Central Co-op, said the closure is a result of the business outgrowing its current distribution facilities in Leicester.

She said: “The commitment and experience of our distribution teams is amongst the best in the logistics industry and they do an amazing job keeping our shops running.

"As we grow and invest in the society to support communities, we need to be ready for the future and we have now outgrown our current distribution facilities."

She added: "I know this is going to be a difficult time for some of our colleagues and our priority will be supporting them and we are able to offer them alternative roles, either within Central Co-op or the LIDIA network."

A spokesman for Central Co-op added: “To continue growing the society and where we support communities, we have given a lot of careful thought to the future needs of our distribution operations – including the age of our current network and its capability to fulfil the future needs in our strategy to improve the offer to members and customers.

The spokesman said the society had looked at a number of options, including investing in a new purpose-built modern operation, but had decided to join LIDIA from 2024.

The Co-op spokesman added: "This is a difficult decision for some of our colleagues and we are sorry it will result in the proposed closure of our three distribution operations in Leicester and our Whetstone garage, with the transition period expected to take a year.

"We will now enter a consultation period with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW)."

John Gorle, USDAW national officer said the union’s priority was to prevent redundancies.

He said: “This is devastating news for staff affected by the company’s proposal, our members are deeply concerned about their future employment prospects.

“We will now enter into a period of meaningful consultation where USDAW reps and officials will interrogate the company’s business case for the transfer of distribution operations.

“We welcome that Central Co-op has given an early commitment to offering alternative roles to all staff affected, both within Central Co-op the Co-operative Group.

“Our priorities are to avoid redundancies and secure the best support package possible. In the meantime we are providing our members with the advice, support and representation they need during this period of uncertainty.”