The Thresher Group, the UK's largest off-licence chain, has acquired the food company, for a price thought to be between £2m and £5m.

The deal will mean the company's stores will start selling gourmet meals from later on this summer and is being seen as an attempt to fend off the stifling competition from the UK's supermarket chains.

Leapingsalmon was established in 1999 by James Marshall and last year sold 100,000 meals, mostly in London. Its target audience is the time-pressured urban professional.

Thresher will install chiller cabinets in 500 of its 2000 stores, aiming at those with heavy commuter traffic such as the stores in train stations. They will offer packs with all the ingredients for dishes such as leapingsalmon's Thai green curry or its Portuguese chicken paella.

The off-licence group will also sell its wine through the leapingsalmon website.

David Williams, chief executive of Thresher, said the deal was an important part of re-positioning Thresher from being a traditional off-licence chain.

"It's an unusual move but one we are very excited about as we want people to re-appraise our stores," he said.

"Our research has shown that people love our wines, but ask us 'where's the food'?

"We will also look at pricing of the meals and ways of making them simpler," said Williams. "I cooked the Thai green curry myself the other night, which was delicious, but could be simpler."