Frozen food chain Iceland is considering bidding for any stores Sainsbury’s and Asda are required to sell in order to obtain regulatory clearance for their proposed combination, as it seeks to expand its Food Warehouse business (Financial Times £). Although the companies’ traditional superstores “would be too big” for Iceland to take on, “you can redevelop, you can carve up, you can put in neighbouring retailers alongside”, the company’s managing director Richard Walker said.
Sports Direct has pulled its offer to buy Patisserie Valerie after just two days, complaining of being shut out of the bidding process for the beleaguered café chain (Financial Times £). The decision comes after the retail group, owned by billionaire Mike Ashley, went public on Friday with an offer to acquire the café chain that crashed into administration last month after the discovery of a long-term accounting fraud (The Guardian). Chris Wootton, the company’s deputy finance chief, wrote to the KPMG partner handling the administration yesterday to say it was withdrawing a bid of more than £15m after failing to gain “access to a data room, any financial information or meetings with management” (Telegraph £). Other bidders are thought to be interested including coffee chain Costa and David Scott, the former owner of Druckers who sold his business to Patisserie Valerie a decade ago (Daily Mail).
Ocado boss Tim Steiner triggered a highly-ambitious plan to triple the value of his food delivery firm only days before its prized robot-run warehouse was engulfed in flames. The Mail on Sunday reports that the plan would see the company’s stock market value soar to almost £20bn – putting it in the same league as corporate titans Rolls-Royce, Tesco and BT. Steiner, who in recent weeks has held secret talks about launching a new food delivery service for Marks & Spencer, stands to net up to £100million in bonuses in the next five years if he can deliver such seismic growth.
“Ocado was riding high on a US deal for its robotised logistics system, then came a fire at its state-of-the-art depot,” writes Zoe Wood for The Guardian. “Although Ocado’s share price had recovered by Friday, the middle of last week saw more than £1bn wiped off the stock market value of the retail-turned-tech firm. Investors worried that retailers, who have been queuing to buy its automated warehouse technology, would take fright at the vulnerability the fire had exposed.”
Firefighters trying to put out flames at an Ocado warehouse had to dodge robots as they battled through the smoke to find the one that started the fire (The Times £). The company’s customer fulfilment centre in Andover, Hampshire, has 1,110 robots that sort and package groceries for delivery.
Corporate America is sounding an alarm over mounting Brexit risks, beefing up warnings to investors as boardrooms worry that a disorderly departure threatens international business (Financial Times £). With less than seven weeks to go before the UK is due to leave the EU, several S&P 500 groups have for the first time put Wall Street on formal notice of the risks should London and Brussels fail to reach a divorce deal.
Imperial Brands is expected to announce that Mark Williamson will step down as chairman of the tobacco group in the coming months on the back of the introduction of more stringent corporate governance rules. The Times (£) understands that the cigarette maker has been engaged in succession planning over Mr Williamson’s tenure, which exceeds new guidance of nine years, and could soon confirm his resignation. Tobacco giant Imperial Brands has been shaken by a plot to oust chief executive Alison Cooper and chairman Mark Williamson (Telegraph £). Shareholders in the Lambert & Butler and Gauloises owner have been left angered at the FTSE 100 titan’s performance with its share price roughly at the same level as five years ago.
“The UK should follow Europe’s example and bar the Sainsbury’s-Asda merger,” writes Neil Collins for the Financial Times (£). “It presents an early opportunity for the CMA’s chairman Andrew Tyrie to show his teeth and stop this clear cut in competition in food retailing. The wannabe partners would rather he did not see it like that, arguing that Sainsda would be barely bigger than Tesco, and look how those beastly Germans from Aldi and Lidl are eating our lunch.”
David Tyler is to hand over as chairman of Sainsbury’s soon, but before he goes there is the small matter of a £12bn combination with Asda to deliver (The Times £).
The future of the Ed’s Easy Diner and Giraffe restaurant chains is in doubt after the appointment of advisers to conduct a strategic review of the brands (The Times £). Boparan Restaurant Group hired KPMG to consider a possible sale or closure of loss-making and marginal sites or an outright sale of one or both brands. Between them they cover up to 68 outlets and 1,600 staff.
The boss of airport and station food retailer SSP faces an investor backlash over her £6.2m pay packet as she prepares to bow out after six years (The Sunday Times £). Kate Swann, 54, has been paid a total of £22.4m since she led the owner of baguette chain Upper Crust to a float in 2014. She still holds shares worth about £40.3m.
Cosmetics maker Coty acknowledged difficulties in turning around the beauty brands acquired from Procter & Gamble in a blockbuster 2015 deal, and was forced to take a nearly $1bn writedown on the assets (Financial Times £).
More shops closed down in 2018 than in any year on record, as the crisis on the high street deepened and retailers went into full retreat. Analysis for The Sunday Telegraph (£) by the Local Data Company shows that 18,355 stores brought their shutters down for the final time.
One in ten shops in town centres is standing empty as footfall at shopping centres continues to decline, retail experts have warned (The Times £). The vacancy rate at shops across the country has increased over the past year, rising from 8.9% at the start of 2018, to 9.6% in October and 9.9% in January, according to Springboard, a retail analyst.
The scandal at Patisserie Valerie has already lost him millions of pounds and damaged his credibility as one of Britain’s top entrepreneurs. Now the controversy appears to have starved deal-hungry Luke Johnson of yet another restaurant chain takeover. The Mail on Sunday reports Johnson was set to gobble up a sizeable stake in trendy Italian restaurant chain Polpo – before pulling out of a deal when Patisserie Valerie collapsed.
“A new generation is meeting the growing market for plant-based products,” writes Hazel Sheffield in The Times (£).
Spain’s battered supermarket chain Dia Group plans to lay off up to 2,100 employees in its home country after the food retailer reported on Friday that it had swung to a loss during a “very turbulent year” (Financial Times £).
Cardboard box maker Smurfit Kappa and warehouse owner Segro are expected to deliver booming profits this week as both companies continue to benefit from the shift to online shopping (Telegraph £). Analysts expect Dublin-based Smurfit to post pre-tax profits up more than half to €919m (£800m) on revenues of more than €9bn.
The outgoing chairman of Sainsbury’s has revealed that he was the first person to spot one of the biggest scandals in the City — the County Natwest and Blue Arrow affair of the late 1980s (The Times £).
Hundreds of potentially dangerous fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers with plastic backings are still on sale at UK retailers despite them being shown to pose a fire risk, a consumer group has said (The Guardian).