Brexit could send food prices soaring, warns online grocer Ocado

headshot of Tim Steiner. CEO of Ocado
headshot of Tim Steiner. CEO of Ocado
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Online grocer Ocado warned Brexit could send supermarket prices surging as the plunging pound pushes up costs for retailers.

Chief executive Tim Steiner said the weaker pound may lead to “inflationary pressure”, but assured he did not believe Brexit would spark a sudden crash in the UK retail market.

His comments came as Ocado posted a slowdown in half-year earnings growth amid “significant challenges” in the sector.

Ocado reported a 5.7% rise in underlying pre-tax earnings to £40.4 million for the six months to May 15, against 11.4% growth a year earlier.

But it secured another double-digit rise in retail sales, up 13.9% to £582.9 million, and said it was gaining market share.

The results come as it faces competition from the launch of Amazon’s rival fresh food service earlier this month, which saw Ocado’s shares plunge to a three-year low earlier this month.

Mr Steiner said the group had seen “absolutely no impact whatsoever” yet from AmazonFresh, but added the firm was “keeping a close eye” on the new competition.

Mr Steiner said the group had seen no impact so far from Brexit on trading and consumer demand.

“We don’t believe Brexit will have a significant impact on the business, but we’re waiting to see what happens to pricing,” he said.

On fears for consumer spending and UK retail, he added: “We’re not expecting the whole thing to suddenly collapse.”

Ocado imports a lot of its fresh food and produce, as do other supermarkets, and will be impacted by the weak pound making overseas goods more expensive.

It could bring to an end a welcome lengthy spell of falling supermarket prices for shoppers.

But Ocado said the weaker pound would also make its technology more attractive to overseas buyers.

Mr Steiner said ongoing food price deflation and a fierce price war saw the supermarket sector “experience significant challenges during the period”.

Ocado’s average basket value declined by 2.2% to £110.10 in the first half due to price deflation pressures.

But he added: “Our increasing scale and operational efficiencies meant that we still grew profits, albeit at a slower rate.”

Shares in the group surged as much as 10% on its confident outlook.

Graham Pearce of KPMG

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