John Lewis Partnership (JLP) has rejected reports it ruled out formal talks with Amazon after the tech giant had eyed Waitrose supermarkets as a takeover target last year.
According to a Sunday Times report, a senior executive from the US tech giant pushed for a formal meeting, but was blocked by JLP’s board.
Amazon’s move into the UK grocery sector two years ago, with the launch of the online delivery service Amazon Fresh, has long prompted speculation among City analysts that it could be interested in buying a more established UK supermarket chain.
Its $13.7bn (£10.12bn) purchase of organic food chain Whole Foods Markets last summer was seen as a statement of its ambitions, earning it about 460 stores, including nine in the UK where it has operated since 2004.
The proposed £15bn Asda–Sainsbury’s merger to create a new grocery superpower has been seen as attempt to fight off the increasing threat from Amazon.
According to the Sunday Times, the attempt to open talks with Waitrose was made by Ajay Kavan, vice-president of special projects at Amazon. Kavan reportedlyhad several “enormously informal” conversations last November with an unnamed director of JLP about a possible deal .
However, Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of JLP, denied there had been an approach.
He said: “These times are ripe for speculation but there has been no approach to the Partnership by Amazon regarding Waitrose and nor would I expect there to be.”
Amazon said the company did not comment on rumour and speculation.
Waitrose became part of the John Lewis Partnership in 1937 when it had 10 stores. There are now more that 350 Waitrose stores, as well as shops at Welcome Break service stations.
The partnership structure means that the John Lewis and Waitrose businesses are owned by the group’s 85,000 permanent staff who share in the profits. In March, JLP cut its annual staff bonus to the lowest level in 64 years after profit plunged.