LONDON — Supermarket deals have been stealing headlines in the U.K., with Marks & Spencer the latest retailer looking to ramp up its online offer via a joint venture with grocery delivery service Ocado.
M&S said Wednesday it had formed a 50/50 joint venture with Ocado Group, the pure-play digital grocer, in a bid to get more of its food into the fridges and cupboards of customers, and shift at least one-third of its business online.
M&S, one of the U.K.’s largest retailers, does not have an online food delivery offer, unlike rivals Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Amazon, which in 2017 purchased Whole Foods.
The food-to-fashion-to-homeware giant said it will acquire a 50 percent share of Ocado’s U.K. retail business for up to 750 million pounds. The JV will be financed partly by a rights issue of up to 600 million pounds. Shareholders will also have to kick money into the deal: M&S said it would “reset” its dividend per share by 40 percent, cutting it down to 7.1 pence for fiscal 2018-19.
Although shares surged on Tuesday after M&S confirmed talks with Ocado, they slumped 8.3 percent to 2.78 pounds once shareholders realized they’d have to stump up money for the deal.
M&S said the JV would combine the strength of its own brand with Ocado’s “unique and proprietary technology to create an unrivaled online offer for our customers.” It argued that the JV would benefit existing and new U.K. customers, colleagues and suppliers.
The JV will trade as ocado.com and will have access to M&S’s brand, products and customer database from September 2020 at the latest, M&S said. The new deal also spells the end of the current Ocado-Waitrose sourcing agreement.
M&S touted the “long-term value creation opportunities” for both M&S and Ocado, and said customers would benefit from the broadest range in U.K. food retail. The JV, in turn, will have access to more than 12 million M&S Food shoppers, the retailer said.
For the 52 weeks ended Dec. 2, 2018, the newly created JV would have generated revenue of 1.47 billion pounds and EBITDA — or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — of 34.2 million pounds.
“I have always believed that M&S Food could, and should, be online,” said Steve Rowe, chief executive officer of Marks & Spencer. “Combining the strength of our food offer with leading online and delivery capability is a compelling proposition to drive long-term growth.”
He added that the JV will allow M&S to take its food online “in an immediately profitable, scalable and sustainable way,” and transform the store into “a digital-first retailer, with at least a third of the business online.”
Tim Steiner, ceo of Ocado, promised an “unrivaled” online grocery offer, “offering even greater range, service, quality and value. The combination of Ocado and M&S will allow us to grow faster, add more jobs, and create more value, as we lead the channel shift to e-commerce here in the U.K. We are very excited by the many opportunities ahead.”
The JV comes just days after the U.K. competition authority effectively rejected a mega-merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda, saying it would lead to reduced competition, higher prices, worse shopping experiences and reductions in ranges for in-store and online shoppers.
In the wake of the preliminary decision by the Competition and Markets Authority, which Sainsbury’s and Asda plan to appeal, KKR is said to be interested in purchasing Asda, which is owned by Walmart.