The UK’s competition regulator is investigating the acquisition of supermarket group Asda by the British billionaire Issa brothers and the private equity group TDR Capital, the Competition and Markets Authority said on Tuesday.
The CMA said its investigation will analyse whether the merger will result “in a substantial lessening of competition” in the UK supermarkets sector and invited interested parties to comment on the merger by December 22, with a “phase 1” decision set for February 18.
US retailer Walmart sold control of Asda to TDR Capital and British brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa, co-founders of petrol station retailer EG Group, in October, in a deal valued at £6.8 billion ($9.05bn).
“As we expected, the CMA have launched a Phase 1 investigation into the acquisition of Asda following a referral from the European Commission today. We are looking forward to working constructively with the CMA to address any questions they may have,” a spokesperson for the Issa brothers and TDR Capital said on Tuesday.
Under Asda’s new ownership structure, the Issa brothers and TDR Capital will own a majority stake in the supermarket chain on a debt-free and cash-free basis, while Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will retain a minority stake and a seat on the board.
At the time of the deal in October, Walmart said it expected the CMA to consider the deal.
The agreement comes more than a year after regulators rejected a £7.3bn bid from rival supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to acquire Asda amid concerns the merged company would dominate Britain’s grocery sector. Walmart then revived sales talks for the supermarket this year.
“The CMA has launched its phase 1 investigation following the European Commission’s decision to refer the case to the United Kingdom, following a request by the merging parties under Article 4(4) of the EC Merger Regulation,” the CMA said.
Walmart had been looking to offload Asda for at least two years before the deal was struck in October and will now focus on the US market, where it earns three-quarters of its revenue. The retailer has owned Asda since 1999, when it purchased the supermarket chain for £6.7bn.
Asda’s new owners said in October that the supermarket’s base would remain in Leeds, with the brothers also committing to invest £1bn over the next three years to strengthen the business’s supply chain and pledging to keep prices low across its stores.
November was the best month ever for UK grocery market sales, with £10.9bn spent, as cafes and restaurants were shut by England's second national lockdown, market researcher Kantar said on Tuesday.
Of Britain's big four supermarket groups, Morrisons outperformed rivals over the 12-week period ended November 29, with sales growth of 13.7 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier, with Sainsbury's experiencing growth of 10.8 per cent and market leader Tesco on 10.4 per cent. Asda was the laggard with growth of 7.7 per cent.
The siblings are the owners of Euro Garages, now called EG Group – a company they set up in Blackburn in 2001 with the purchase of a single petrol station in Bury, on the outskirts of Manchester.
Since then, the company has become one of the country’s most recognisable forecourt operators and now has a global presence with 6,000 sites across 10 countries, including in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia.
EG Group also operates outlets for the supermarket chains Spar and Carrefour, as well as the coffee company Starbucks and takeaway brands such as Subway, Burger King, KFC and Greggs.
Despite this global reach, the brothers still run the company from their home town of Blackburn in the county of Lancashire. They recently unveiled a new headquarters worth £35m.
It is quite the rags-to-riches tale that started in the early 1970s when their parents immigrated to Britain from Gujarat in India, with the brothers born shortly after.
After settling in Blackburn, the family bought a petrol station where the brothers started their career selling fuel and refreshments.
When their parents later sold the business, it gave the brothers an idea.
"Fuel sales were declining," Zuber told the Financial Times in an interview in 2018.
“We wanted to create a destination where you could get fuel, food-to-go and shopping. This is the formula and it works. We were fortunate that the big players were leaving the market just as we were growing."
That business decision helped them amass a fortune that includes a £25m townhouse in Kensington in London and a private jet housed in a hangar at Blackpool airport alongside Donald Trump’s personal helicopter, according to media reports.