Sir Ken Morrison, the former supermarket tycoon and head of Morrisons, has died aged 85.

Morrison, who started out in 1956 with his father’s then small, independent regional chain of grocery stores, led a formidable growth campaign with the brand and expanded across the north of England.

A statement said that Sir Ken was “the driving force at the heart of Morrisons as it grew from two market stalls”.

On this expansion journey, Morrison bought up abattoirs, vegetable packing sheds and pie-making factories to reduce wastage and make stocking stores easier.

Morrisons floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1967 and saw steady and reliable growth until 2004, when it acquired the Safeway brand and chain of stores for around £3bn. The acquisition meant Morrisons had a foothold in the south and became the UK’s fourth largest grocer – marking it as a competitor with the likes of Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco.

Sir Ken Morrison retired in 2008, leaving the company with 375 stores and more than 9m weekly customers nationwide.

Morrisons chairman Andrew Higginson said: “[Morrison] was an inspirational leader and the driving force behind Morrisons for over half a century. Although he retired several years ago, his legacy is evident every day and in every aspect of our business.”