FIVE pharmacies in the Staffordshire Moorlands are to change hands as the Co-operative Group bids to reduce its £1 billion-plus debts.
The Co-op is selling its five chemists in the district to Bestway as part of a £620 million deal.
The outlets in Ball Haye Street and Derby Street, Leek; New Street, Biddulph Moor; and High Street and Wharf Road, Biddulph, are among 774 pharmacies staff, being sold off.
The deal, which affects more than 6,500 staff, is expected to go through in October.
Bestway is a privately-owned group with a global workforce of 32,600 people – 11,900 in the UK.
The acquisition of the pharmacy arm of the Co-op is set to take its turnover to around £3.4 billion.
It comes after 2013 was declared the worst year in the Co-op's 150-year history.
Co-op interim chief executive Richard Pennycook said the deal will enable the Co-op to invest in its core retail and consumer-facing businesses.
He added: "Bestway is acquiring an excellent pharmacy business characterised by the quality and professionalism of colleagues and high levels of customer service."
The agreement follows a formal sale process initiated by The Co-operative reflecting its decision that the pharmacy business was not part of its future strategy.
The net proceeds will be used to reduce The Co-operative's debt and invest in its core businesses across its Retail and Consumer Services divisions.
Bestway will have the right to operate under The Co-operative Pharmacy brand for a transitional period of 12 months.
Bestway is the UK's eighteenth largest privately owned company and seventh largest family-owned business.
It serves 125,000 independent retailers and caterers from 64 warehouses nationwide, and with more than six million square feet of selling space offering a product range of over 25,000 items.
Bestway's retail club business is the largest in the UK with over 4,000 members.
Mr Pennycook added: "I expect the pharmacy business to go from strength to strength under the committed long-term ownership of Bestway and we look forward to working with them through the transition period."
Zameer M Choudrey, Bestway group chief executive, said: "The Co-operative Pharmacy is a strong, competitive business, operating in a sector where demographic trends show an increasing demand for healthcare services amongst the wider community.
"We see great potential to grow the business organically and through future acquisitions. We always look to take a long term approach and have a strong track record of successfully growing businesses that have previously been acquired within the group.
"We are confident that we will continue to do so with this business."
The Co-operative Bank, part of the group, acquired The Britannia Building Society in Leek in 2009.