Business Maverick

W23 GLOBAL

Shoprite joins group of retailers revamping retail on a global scale

Shoprite joins group of retailers revamping retail on a global scale
Shoprite CEO Pieter Engelbrecht. (Photo: Halden Krog / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The W23 Global fund will pump $125m into start-ups aimed at addressing sustainability and transforming grocery retail.

Shoprite — Africa’s largest retail group which pioneered R5 meals and pads, as well as 60-minute delivery just in time for the Covid pandemic — has now joined other global grocery leaders in a new venture capital fund that will invest $125-million (R2.33-billion) over the next five years in innovative start-ups geared at transforming grocery retail and addressing the sector’s sustainability issues.

The W23 Global comprises Shoprite, Tesco, Dutch-Belgian multinational retail group Ahold Delhaize (which has a footprint across the US, Europe and Indonesia), British market leader Tesco, the Australian Woolworths Group (which has over 1,400 stores in Australia and New Zealand) and the Empire Company/Sobeys from Canada.

Each retailer will be an equal funder and partner in W23 Global, with their respective CEOs sitting on the investment committee.

W23 Global, backed by the Australian Woolworths Group, is led by CEO and chief investment officer Ingrid Maes, who founded the organisation in 2019.

The firm invests in early-stage companies in the retail-tech, climate-tech and digital health space. 

Maes has more than 25 years of experience in innovation in FMCG and grocery retail.

She is highly regarded in the retail sector and has a reputation for “being visionary, moving fast, challenging the status quo, getting things done and delivering commercial results”.

In a statement issued on Monday, W23 said the fund will invest in innovative start-ups and scale-ups that deploy technology to enhance customer experiences, transform the grocery value chain and address the sector’s sustainability challenges.

Maes explained: “W23 Global is a pioneering international VC fund with a uniquely powerful proposition for both our investors and portfolio companies.

“At a time when innovation is reshaping retail and value chains across the economy, we aim to offer our investors incomparable access to transformative innovation in grocery and sustainability across the globe.

“W23 Global will also work with its investors to identify common unaddressed challenges and identify entrepreneurs best placed to innovate new solutions.”

The fund helps its portfolio companies access quicker routes to attain global scale, without the risk of being exposed to a venture fund with a single strategic investor.

The fund’s portfolio companies will be free to contract with any customer, on whatever terms they decide, the media release said.

Shoprite is by no means a bit-player in the relationship.

shoprite

It has a presence in the most countries and the third-most stores.

Shoprite group CEO Pieter Engelbrecht noted that South Africa’s “unique trading circumstances” were unlike anything their partners in the VC fund had faced or had to deal with. 

“In a country with one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, as measured by the Gini coefficient, we at the Shoprite Group have to find more affordable solutions for our customers to sustain their livelihoods, every day. 

“This is the driving force behind our need to innovate faster than most retailers and is why we entered this venture with our esteemed global counterparts.”

Ahold Delhaize CEO, Frans Muller, said they looked forward to enhancing their efforts by partnering with other industry leaders and maximising their collective impact. 

“Together with best-in-class start-ups and scale-ups, we strongly believe we can further drive retail innovation, foster sustainability and deliver greater value to communities worldwide.”

Tesco, the UK’s leading food retailer, is the world’s third-largest retailer by gross revenues and the ninth-largest retailer by revenue. It has a presence in seven countries across Asia and Europe. 

CEO Ken Murphy said Tesco was excited to be collaborating with the other leaders in the grocery sector:

“We are passionate about seeking out the best retail innovations and finding ways to make everything we do sustainable, and this partnership allows us to do that on a truly global scale.” DM

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