Morrisons has bought a 10% stake in online US ­grocer FreshDirect for £32m to boost its own ­online ambitions.

Speaking as Morrisons unveiled a 13% increase in pre-tax profits to £869m for the year to 30 January, CEO Dalton Philips announced the retailer would launch an online shopping operation within two years.

Philips will join the board of FreshDirect, which currently serves over 600,000 customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Morrisons will also embed a team in FreshDirect's Long Island City HQ to learn about its ­e-commerce model.

"I have seen retailers all over the world. Few have inspired me as much as the team at FreshDirect, a highly successful and ­profitable food retailer with a track record of terrific customer service," said Philips.

The retailer also announced that it had acquired the first three sites for its 'M Local' convenience trial. The first store will open in July.

Total sales were up 7% to £16.5bn but like-for-likes excluding VAT and fuel rose by just 0.9%.

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