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Online grocery shopping drives up sales at Ocado

U.K.-based e-grocery company says sales were boosted by higher demand during pandemic-related lockdowns

Ocado, one of the biggest internet-only grocery retailers, said Tuesday that sales rose 35% during the last fiscal year as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift toward internet shopping.

The company, which is based in Britain but has been expanding with partners in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, said retail sales jumped to 2.19 billion pounds (US$3.02 billion) in the year through November from 1.62 billion pounds a year earlier.

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Consumers around the world have scrambled for online grocery delivery slots during the pandemic as shoppers sought to protect themselves by avoiding supermarkets. During Ocado's fiscal year, U.K. health authorities imposed a raft of social distancing measures and two national lockdowns to control COVID-19.

The Canadian market, where Ocado is partnered exclusively with Empire's Sobeys banner, is no exception. Accelerated usage of online grocery shopping during the pandemic prompted Empire to launch its e-commerce service Voilà by Sobeys months ahead of schedule--a move that paid off for the Nova Scotia-based grocery company. Empire’s e-commerce business grew 241% in Q2 2020.

"The rapid acceleration of many pre-existing trends in business and society has been a feature of the COVID-19 crisis, and the dramatic channel shift in grocery is a clear example of this," Chief executive Tim Steiner said in a statement. "The landscape for food retailing is changing for good."

Ocado invested 525.6 million pounds in expanding the business and improving technology, more than double the previous year's capital spending. That means the company still reported a pretax loss of 44 million pounds, down from 214.5 million pounds in the year-earlier period.

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