Mukesh Ambani's Reliance takes $3.4bn stake in Future Group's retail and supply chain units

Asia's richest man aims to solidify his position in India's retail sector to compete with global giants such as Amazon

Reliance Industries, the Indian conglomerate controlled by Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani, agreed to buy the retail and wholesale business and the logistics and warehousing unit of Future Group in a 247.1 billion rupees ($3.4bn/Dh12.4bn) deal, solidifying its grip on India's retail sector.

Future Group, founded by first-generation Indian entrepreneur, Kishore Biyani, will merge “certain companies” into Future Enterprises as part of the deal, Reliance Retail Ventures said in a statement on Sunday. Reliance Retail will then invest 12bn rupees to take a 6.09 per cent stake in Future Enterprises.

"With this transaction, we … provide a home to the renowned formats and brands of Future Group as well as preserve its business ecosystem, which have played an important role in the evolution of modern retail in India,” Isha Ambani, director of Reliance Retail Ventures, said.

“We hope to continue the growth momentum of the retail industry with our unique model of active collaboration with small merchants and kiranas [groceries] as well as large consumer brands."

Future Group owns about 2,000 retail stores across 400 cities and towns in India. Its portfolio includes flagship supermarket chain Big Bazaar, apparel stores such as Brand Factory and FBB along with a growing chain of small neighbourhood stores including EasyDay and Heritage Fresh, WH Smith and 7-Eleven.

"We are pleased that our strong retail franchise and brands, that we have created over time, are going in stronger hands," Mr Biyani said in a separate statement. "This transaction takes into account the interest of all [Future Group's] stakeholders including lenders, shareholders [and] creditors."

The acquisition of the retail, wholesale and supply chain businesses of the group is a strategic fit into Reliance’s retail business, already India’s largest retailer by number of stores. The retail sector in India, which is Asia’s third-largest economy and home to about 1.3 billion people, is estimated to be worth $1.1 to $1.3 trillion by 2025 from $700bn in 2019, according to a joint study by Boston Consulting Group and the Retailers’ Association of India.

Mr Ambani has raised more than $20bn this year by selling stakes in his technology arm Jio Platforms to investors including Google, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Mubadala Investment Company, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Facebook, KKR and General Atlantic.

The billionaire businessman is gradually transitioning Reliance, the world’s second largest energy firm, into a consumer services company.

In July, he outlined plans to bring in investors for Reliance Retail in an effort to further his dominance in the country's retail sector and compete with global e-commerce giants which are looking to tap into India's largely unorganised retail market.

Amazon has pledged to invest $5.5bn in India, while Walmart spent $16bn to buy local e-commerce leader Flipkart Online Services in 2018.

Mr Ambani is also looking to acquire several online retailers in India to help expand the company's online product offerings. Reliance is in various stages of negotiations to either buy or purchase stakes in Urban Ladder, an online furniture seller; Zivame, a lingerie maker; and Netmeds, which delivers medicine, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.

Reliance could pay $160 million for Zivame while the Urban Ladder deal could be priced at about $30m and Netmeds at $120m, according to Indian media reports. Milkbasket, a milk delivery company, is also one of its targets.

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