Procter & Gamble has taken a symbolic first step into UK retail by snapping up a surprise £5m stake in online grocer Ocado.

The consumer products giant takes a 1% stake in Ocado in return for the investment, which comes as part of a wider £18m injection of funds.

The remainder of the cash is being provided by the Apple Trust operated by Tetra Pak mogul Jorn Rausing. The trust already controls a 12.5% stake in Ocado.

Last month The Grocer reported that Ocado was effectively touting itself for sale but had struggled to identify bidders due to racking up losses of almost £40m over the past year.

P&G described the deal as a “huge research opportunity” to develop its understanding of online retailing, having earlier this year signalled its intention to sell its products directly to US consumers over the internet.

P&G said in a statement: “[Ocado has] a unique business and we can learn from it. We have not exactly worked out the research projects we will be looking at, but it will give us a better understanding of how people use the internet."

The latest investment brings the total capital raised by the company to almost £300m since its inception – the most of any European start-up business.