Dutch grocer Ahold Delhaize announced yesterday that it has bought an 80 percent stake in New York-based online grocer FreshDirect. Private equity firm Centerbridge Partners bought the remaining 20 percent. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
FreshDirect will continue to operate as an independent unit and under its own brand name. The company will join other Ahold Delhaize brands that include Stop & Shop and Giant Foods.
The purchase of FreshDirect comes on the heels of what has been a pandemic-induced record year for online grocery sales. New York City, one of FreshDirect’s main service areas, was hit particularly hard in the early stages of the pandemic, pushing the company’s delivery capacity to the brink. With the U.S. entering its third wave with the virus, having the massive infrastructure and resources of Ahold Delhaize could help FreshDirect weather any coming storm.
The combination of Fresh Direct and Ahold Delhaize also has a tech-forward angle. In addition to being an online-only grocer, FreshDirect also recently opened up a robot-powered fulfillment center in the Washington, D.C. area. For it’s part, Ahold Delhaize has experimented with automated micro-fulfillment centers, in-store robots, and small, cashierless nano-retail environments.
With the FreshDirect acquisition, Ahold Delhaize is also bolstering its capabilities to better fend off competition from the giant players in the grocery space. Walmart has made aggressive grocery delivery moves through its Walmart+ subscription service as well as a partnership with Instacart (and experimenting with self-driving delivery cars). And Amazon, which was once online only, has made moves into the physical space with its Go Grocery and Fresh stores.
With online grocery projected to become 21.5 percent of total grocery sales by 2025, expect these types of salvos between supermarkets to continue into the next year.