Somerfield’s roots can be traced back to 1875 when a small family grocery store was opened in Bristol by J H Mills. By 1900 the store had expanded into a chain of 12 stores. Over the next 50 years these stores developed into a self-service supermarket chain that was re-branded as Gateway Foodmarkets in 1950. Gateway Foodmarkets was acquired by Linfood Holdings, which already owned the Frank Dee wholesaler business and a chain of 70 supermarkets, in 1977. The company was renamed the Dee Corporation six years later.

Between 1983 and 1987 a number of acquisitions and mergers were made, with Keymarkets, Lennons, International Stores, Fine Fare and the UK operations of Carrefour being added to the Dee Corporation. However, difficulties in trying to integrate all the disparate businesses into one resulted in the company re-launching its operations under the Somerfield brand.

In October 2004, Somerfield acquired 114 Safeway stores from WM Morrison and opened its first Market Fresh store in Wanstead. A year later, the supermarket chain was taken private by a consortium consisting of Apax Partners, Barclays Capital and the Tchenguiz Family Trust.