Walmart sells UK supermarket Asda in £6.8bn deal to billionaire brothers

Supermarket’s new owners pledge to source stock from British-based suppliers

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 10, 2018 customers arrive to go shopping at a branch of Asda supermarket in south London. US retail giant Walmart has agreed to sell its British supermarket chain Asda to two UK firms for £6.8 billion ($8.7 billion, 7.4 billion euros), they announced October 2, 2020. / AFP / Justin TALLIS
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US retailer Walmart pulled out of Britain's grocery market after selling control of Asda to TDR Capital and two British billionaire brothers in a deal valued at £6.8 billion ($8.79bn).

Under the new ownership structure, brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa, founders and co-chief executives of petrol station retailer EG Group, and private equity company TDR Capital, will acquire a majority stake in the supermarket chain on a debt-free and cash-free basis, according to a statement on Asda’s website. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will retain a minority stake and a seat on the board.

“Asda has been a powerhouse of innovation for the rest of the Walmart world, and we look forward to continuing to learn from them in the future,” said Judith McKenna, president and chief executive of Walmart International.

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.

Like most British supermarket chains, Asda’s fortunes have improved during the Covid-19 outbreak as shoppers stocked up on staples to help them survive the lockdown.

“In a constantly changing retailing environment, our new ownership will further enhance our resilience, whilst creating significant, additional opportunities to drive growth,” said Roger Burnley, chief executive of Asda.

Walmart had been looking to offload Asda for at least two years 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 the supermarket’s base would remain in Leeds and that Mr Burnley will remain as chief executive and also form part of the board that will include representatives appointed by the Issa brothers, TDR Capital and Walmart.

Mohsin and Zuber Issa. The brothers committed to invest £1bn over the next three years to strengthen Asda's supply chain and pledged to keep prices low. Courtesy Euro Garages
Mohsin and Zuber Issa. The brothers committed to invest £1bn over the next three years to strengthen Asda's supply chain and pledged to keep prices low. Courtesy Euro Garages

The brothers also committed to invest £1bn over the next three years to strengthen the business’s supply chain and pledged to keep prices low across its stores – something the grocer is renowned for – amid tough economic conditions. Britain's economy has been hammered by the effects of Covid-19 with gross domestic product falling 19.8 per cent in the second quarter and the country facing the potential of new tariffs on imported food when the UK exits the European Union.

The brothers also pledged to boost the proportion of UK-based suppliers at Asda - increasing the volume of products, such as chicken, dairy, wheat and potatoes purchased from within the UK each year - and committed to source 100 per cent of beef from within the country.

“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,” the Issa brothers said in a statement.

The pair are the founders of Euro Garages, which has more than 6,000 petrol stations and convenience stores in Europe, North America and Australia.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak tweeted that it is “great to see Asda returning to majority U.K. ownership for the first time in two decades".

The buyers are seeking about £4bn pounds of debt financing from banks including Barclays, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Lloyds, Morgan Stanley and Rabobank, according to Bloomberg sources.