ASDA returns to British ownership as billionaire tycoons win takeover battle
The billionaire brothers behind petrol forecourt firm EG Group and private equity firm TDR Capital have won the £6.8 billion takeover battle for supermarket giant Asda.
Walmart, the supermarket chain’s US owner, has accepted a bid led by Lancashire brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa following a lengthy auction process. Walmart will retain a minority stake in Asda as part of the agreement.
The new owners have committed to keeping the retailer’s headquarters in Leeds and said they will invest to grow its convenience and online operations.
Roger Burnley will stay on as chief executive, leading a board which will have representatives appointed by the Issa brothers, TDR Capital and Walmart.
Burnley, who has led the grocer since the start of 2018, told the PA news agency that it is a “good day” for the future of Asda.
“Today is good for colleagues and customers as we have new owners passionate about growing the business,” he said.
“They’re backing the business with investment which will grow our online business further and keep up our really strong momentum.”
The chief said he and the new owners held briefings with staff on Friday morning outlining their hopes for the company.
More than £1 billion will be invested into the supermarket chain over the next three years to strengthen the business and its supply chain, the new owners said. They also committed to maintain staff levels and keep prices low for customers.
The Issas said: “We are very proud to be investing in Asda, an iconic British business that we have admired for many years.
“Asda’s customer-centric philosophy, focus on operational excellence and commitment to the communities in which it operates are the same values that we have built EG Group on.
“Asda’s performance through the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fundamental strength and resilience of the business, and we are excited to support Roger and his team as they continue to reposition the business to drive long-term growth.”
Judith McKenna, president and chief executive officer of Walmart International, said: “We are delighted to be able to announce this deal today, which we believe creates the right ownership structure for Asda, building on its 71-year heritage, whilst bringing a new entrepreneurial flair, not only to Asda, but also to UK retailing.
“I’m delighted that Walmart will retain a significant financial stake, a board seat, and will continue as a strategic partner.”
It comes more than a year after a proposed merger between Asda and UK supermarket rival Sainsbury’s was torpedoed by regulators.
Asda has seen its fortunes improve recently with trading strengthening through 2020, as shoppers have spent more money on groceries during the pandemic.
In the quarter to June, Asda saw online sales double but the new owners will be tasked with expanding its digital business further to take advantage of soaring demand and make ground on rivals, such as Tesco, who have a larger slice of the market.
The new owners will also face the challenge of keeping prices low amid tough economic conditions for shoppers and potential new tariffs on EU-imported foods, with the other big four supermarkets all announcing a raft of price cuts in recent months.
EG Group sealed the deal after its offer was favoured by Walmart ahead of a move by US private equity firm Apollo.
Last week, a third bid from Lone Star Funds, fronted by former Asda executive Paul Mason, was dropped after failing to meet the price of its rivals during the latter stage of bidding.
Walmart sought a sale after the UK’s competition regulator blocked its merger with Sainsbury’s amid fears the move would push up prices and reduce product quality.
The US grocery started new discussions over a sale of Asda in February, but saw these halted due to disruption as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the auction process restarted in July as Walmart sought to exit the UK, 21 years after first purchasing the Leeds-based retailer.
Blackburn-based EG Group, formerly known as Euro Garages, already runs forecourt convenience stores for Spar and French hypermarket chain Carrefour.
The deal will have to pass through regulators, although it is expected to be given the green light.
Last week, EG Group announced a trial involving three “Asda on the Move” convenience stores at its petrol forecourts.
TDR Capital, which also owns the UK’s largest pub group, Stonegate, owns a 50% stake in EG Group, sharing ownership with the Issa brothers.
Founded in 1963 by the Asquith brothers (the name is a contraction of Asquith and Dairies), ASDA went on to pioneer fashion in supermarkets. It launched its trailblazing George at ASDA line with Next founder George Davies in 1989, which is now one of the nation's top fashion brands.