FILE PHOTO: A man walks from the main reception of the Ocado CFC (Customer Fulfilment Centre) in Andover, Britain May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. Picture: REUTERS / PETER NICHOLLS
FILE PHOTO: A man walks from the main reception of the Ocado CFC (Customer Fulfilment Centre) in Andover, Britain May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. Picture: REUTERS / PETER NICHOLLS

London  — British online supermarket pioneer Ocado has signed a partnership agreement with Australia’s Coles, its fifth major overseas deal in less than 18 months as food retailers around the globe respond to online competition.

The latest deal, which will see Ocado’s technology and software develop the Coles Online grocery business in Australia, sent Ocado’s share price up as much as 6%  in London on Tuesday to a record high. The stock has risen 147%  in the past year. Coles closed 2.2% up. 

The Coles deal will see two robotic distribution centres — or customer fulfilment centres (CFCs) as Ocado calls them — built and go live within four years, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne.

The Coles deal is Ocado’s first since a fire destroyed its flagship warehouse in Andover, southern England, last month.

“It’s not unhelpful to announce a deal after that fire because it gives you evidence of what we always knew — that there were no consequences of the Andover fire," said  CFO Duncan Tatton-Brown.

Though Ocado has only a 1%  share of Britain’s grocery market, its £9bn stock market valuation has been driven by the technology side of its business — providing international retailers with the infrastructure and software to develop their own online grocery businesses to compete with the likes of Amazon.

After struggling for years to make a profit, Ocado has flourished since late 2017, signing big deals with US group Kroger, Casino in France, Sobeys in Canada, and ICA group in Sweden.

The Coles deal came a month after Ocado announced a £1.5bn retail joint venture in its home market with Marks and Spencer.

“Ocado’s best-in-class proposition, built upon years of developed know-how and technological expertise, positions it well for further outperformance in the UK and monetisation overseas,” said RBC Europe analyst Sherri Malek.

Coles is one of Australia’s largest retailers, trading from 818 supermarkets, 911 liquor stores and 712 Coles Express petrol stations across the country and generating sales in the full year 2018 of A$39.4bn. It is already a market leader in online grocery retailing in Australia through Coles Online, with more than A$1bn in annual sales.

Coles Online’s plan is to serve customers in Australia’s larger urban areas by fulfilling orders through Ocado’s CFCs, with customers in less populated areas benefiting from Ocado’s store-pick software.

Coles said its capital expenditure, inclusive of upfront fees to Ocado, was expected to be A$130m to A$150m over the four year development and construction period.

Tatton-Brown said the deal mirrored previous partnerships — upfront fees upon signing and during the development phase, then ongoing fees linked to both sales achieved and installed capacity within the CFC and service criteria.