Ocado, the online grocer, has reported a 20% increase in retail sales and hailed a permanent shift in grocery shopping in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Retail revenues climbed by 19.8% to £1.2bn in the six months to 30 May, and Ocado cut its half-year loss before tax to £23.6m from £40.6m. At the end of the period, it was serving 777,000 active customers, a 22% increase year on year.
The firm recorded positive growth in the three months to the end of May, even as Covid-19 restrictions began to ease. This meant, however, that fewer meals were being eaten at home and basket sizes began to return towards pre-pandemic levels. Over the half year as a whole, the average basket size was flat at £138.
Tim Steiner, the Ocado chief executive, said the company was tapping into demand “from new pools of customers now socialised to online grocery shopping”.
He added: “As we head towards a post Covid-19 future, it is increasingly clear that the landscape for grocery worldwide has changed, for good.”
Ocado started selling Marks & Spencer products in September, after ending a longstanding partnership with Waitrose.
As the pandemic led to a boom in online shopping, Ocado ramped up its robotic warehouse capacity. It opened three sites in the first half, including the first “mini” warehouse in Bristol, and the first warehouses in the US for Kroger in Ohio and Florida.
The Bristol warehouse is operating at just over half of its capacity of 30,000 orders a week. Ocado plans to open 56 warehouses in coming years, with 15 under construction outside the UK. It is about to open a new warehouse in Andover, to replace one destroyed by fire, as a “state of the art robotic customer fulfilment centre”.
Ocado is looking to build more than 12 “Zoom” micro sites in UK cities, which can handle 10,000 products and deliver in less than an hour, with the first opened in Acton.
The company has also struck a deal with Auchan Retail to supply its technology and develop the French group’s online business in Spain.