Morrisons to take on Walker with Iceland raid?

The ambitious supermarket is apparently among those eyeing up a £1.5bn bid for Iceland. But competition will be fierce.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Morrisons may be the smallest of the UK’s ‘big four’ supermarkets, but if CEO Dalton Philips has anything to do with it, that’s likely to change. The supermarket is apparently pooling its pennies for a £1.5bn tilt at Iceland, the frozen food retailer that's being sold off by collapsed Icelandic bank Landsbanki. A deal would put Morrison’s a bit closer to rivals Sainsbury and Asda, pushing its market share up from 12% to 14%. But it’s not going to be easy: not only will Philips have to get around the competition authorities, but he also faces stiff competition from the chain’s CEO and founder, Malcolm Walker – who by all accounts is a force to be reckoned with...

Since taking over the reins last year, Philips has already snapped up babycare products retailer, to give him a ready-made online retail platform, and Fresh Direct, a fresh food delivery business. Buying Iceland would help him move further into rivals’ territory: the theory seems to be that Morrison’s would turn many of Iceland’s high-street stores into Tesco Metro/Sainsbury’s Local-style convenience stores selling fresh food.

But this deal will be easier said than done. To begin with, Morrison’s won't be the only supermarket interested in Iceland – apparently, Asda and Sainsbury has been sniffing around as well, with a view to buying some of the chain's stores. Any takeover this size (Iceland has 750 stores and employs 22,000 people) would also inevitably attract the attentions of competition authorities. If Asda’s recent £800m takeover of Netto is anything to go by, that could well mean Morrison’s would have to flog some of Iceland’s stores (Asda was forced to sell a quarter of its new sites).

However, the real competition may well come from Walker; famously protective of the chain and its staff, he admitted in April he was gearing up to launch his own bid. He’s certainly in a good position to do so: not only does he (along with management, who are notoriously loyal to him) own just over a quarter of the business, but he’s also got the right to match any offer by a rival bidder. And if our recent interview with him is anything to go buy, Walker isn’t going to give up on his baby easily.

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