Morrisons became the UK's #4 supermarket retailer in 2004 as a result of the acquisition of larger rival Safeway. That deal elevated what had previously been a regional company into a national player alongside Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury. Originally an offshoot of the US group of the same name, Safeway was established as an independent company in 1987. Its fortunes were bumpy to say the least over the next ten years, but the group finally found its feet in 2001 with an emphasis on fresh food and aggressive pricing. In a bold move to become a national operator, regional group Morrisons agreed to acquire Safeway despite fierce competition from a number of other, more powerful buyers. Yet integration of the two businesses proved far more difficult than Morrisons had anticipated, forcing the group to issue an almost unprecedented total of five profit warnings in just the first six months of 2005. Morrisons was back on track by the end of 2006, and delivered strong growth through the subsequent economic downturn. However, trading came under significant pressure in the mid-2010s, not least as a result of aggressive expansion by discounters Aldi and Lidl. There is no significant threat just yet to Morrisons' position among the Big Four but the market remains challenging. Morrisons has around 10% of the UK groceries market, around 5 points behind Sainsbury's and 2 points ahead of Aldi. Unlike other major supermarket groups, Morrisons processes and packs the majority of the fresh food it sells inhouse, and almost all of its fresh meat is sourced in Britain. The group's main private label is Farmers Boy, used across a variety of prepared meals, cooked meats and dairy products, supported by premium brand The Best. Nutmeg is its private label clothing and accessories brand. Morrisons has widened its coverage through wholesale partnerships with Amazon and food delivery service Ocado. It also resurrected the Safeway brand for private label products which it wholesales to independent convenience stores including McColl's. In 2021, Morrisons operated from 497 stores nationally. All supermarkets operate under the Morrisons banner, and the group has for several years also worked closely with third-party convenience store network McColl's, some of whose outlets trade as Morrisons Daily. In 2022, it rescued McColl's from administration with a buyout of all stores. Group revenues for the year to Feb 2021 were £17.6bn with net profit of £96m. David Potts is CEO. In 2021, Morrisons was named as both Grocer of the Year in The Grocer Awards and Supermarket of the Year in the Retail Industry Awards. Later the same year, following a bidding war with another private equity investor, Morrisons was taken private by US firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice for almost £10bn including debt.
Capsule checked 21st October 2021
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Historical profile information for Morrisons
Adbrands Update 9th May 2022: Morrisons was successful in rescuing collapsed convenience retailer McColl's, which went into administration last week. Petrol forecourt operator EG Group - now the controlling shareholder in Asda - was also bidding, but Morrisons' offer prevailed. It has agreed to repay the chain's £145m of debt, and will take on all staff from McColl's 1,160 stores. Of these, 270 outlets already trade under an existing partnership as Morrisons Daily.
Adbrands Daily Update 4th Oct 2021: CD&R secured victory in the battle for Morrisons, which ended in a final one-day auction. That followed months of bid and counter-bid between CD&R and a rival buyer, Fortress Investment. The final price offered by CD&R was 287p per share, or £9.97bn including debt. The offer represented a 61% premium to Morrisons' pre-bid valuation. Former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy was an advisor to CD&R's bid and is expected to become non-executive chairman of the business.
Adbrands Daily Update 20th Aug 2021: There was a new twist in the battle for Morrisons. US bidder CD&R issued a further increase on its offer, lifting the price to 285p, or £7bn. That proposal was promptly accepted by the Morrisons board after CD&R assured the retailer, firstly that it would maintain the company's HQ in Bradford, and also that it had no plans to sell off any part of the store's retail estate. Fortress said it is "considering its options".
Adbrands Daily Update 9th Aug 2021: Fortress increased its offer for Morrisons in an attempt to head off a possible intervention by rival investor CD&R. The new bid values the supermarket chain at £6.7bn, up from £6.3bn last month. However, current Morrisons shareholders have expressed concern over the intentions of any buyer at these prices. Researcher Bernstein has already warned that private equity buyers might be tempted to recoup cash by selling off assets, thereby reducing the footprint of the business. Fortress attempted to calm such fears, promising to be a "responsible long-term steward of this great British company through the next stage of its evolution".
Adbrands Daily Update 5th Jul 2021: After turning down an offer from CD&R last month, Morrisons has accepted a higher takeover bid tabled by another US firm, Fortress Investment, with backing from Canada's Pension Plan Investment Board and the US industrialists the Koch family. The new offer is worth 254p per Morrisons share, or £6.4bn, but more importantly it includes a higher input of new capital. By contrast, the CD&R bid would have burdened Morrisons with enormous debts. Fortress has had experience with several US supermarket chains, including Albertsons, Tesco's Fresh & Easy and A&P, and already owns UK wine retailer Majestic Wine. Adding further heat into the market, a third investor, Apollo Global Management, have said that they too are exploring a possible bid.
Adbrands Daily Update 21st Jun 2021: Morrisons disclosed that it had turned down a takeover offer from the US private equity firm CD&R. The offer was, it said, an "unsolicited highly conditional non-binding proposal" which valued the supermarket chain at around £5.5bn, or 230p per share, around 30% higher than the retailer's undisturbed price. However, Morrisons said the offer "significantly undervalued" its business and its future prospects. The news sparked a sharp leap in Morrisons' share price in the hopes that CD&R or others might return with a higher bid. A key factor in this optimism is the fact that Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco and former chairman of discount store B&M, is a senior adviser to CD&R. Under UK takeover rules, the investment company now has 30 days either to make a firm bid or withdraw its interest.
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