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Shoprite and four global retailers establish R2.2bn JV fund to boost start-ups

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By: BR Reporter - IOL

Shoprite Group and four other leading global retailers said they had established a retail venture capital (VC) fund, W23 Global, to invest $125 million (R2.2 billion) over five years in the world’s most innovative start-ups and scale-ups with the potential to transform grocery retail and address the sector’s sustainability challenges.

Each retailer is an equal funder and partner in W23 Global, while their CEOs will sit on the investment committee.

W23 Global CEO and chief investment officer Ingrid Maes said: “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.”

Maes said W23 Global would also work with its investors to identify common un-addressed challenges and identify entrepreneurs best placed to innovate new solutions.

“Our ambition is to offer our portfolio companies faster pathways to global scale, without being exposed to a venture fund anchored by a single strategic investor.

“With five of the world’s leading grocery CEOs sitting on our investment committee and access to our broader ecosystem, our founders can test and develop their ideas quickly based on an accelerated understanding of retailers’ needs,” said Maes.

The five retailers are strategically positioned in different territories. Shoprite has a footprint in Africa; Ahold Delhaize in the US, Europe and Indonesia; Tesco in the UK, Ireland and Europe; Woolworths Group in Australia and New Zealand (not to be confused with South Africa’s Woolworths); and Empire Company in Canada.

Shoprite Group CEO Pieter Engelbrecht said: “In South Africa we have very unique trading circumstances that are unlike anything our partners in this venture fund have ever faced or had to deal with on a daily basis. 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.”

He said in doing so, Shoprite remained committed to being a responsible corporate citizen for its customers, employees, shareholders, and importantly, also the sustainability of the planet.

Tesco CEO Ken Murphy said: “We are excited to be collaborating with four other leading grocery retailers in this new investment fund. 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.”

Australia’s Woolworths’ Brad Banducci said: “Innovation is helping Woolworths Group create better, faster and more personalised experiences for our customers, while ensuring we always have what they need in store and online. It’s also fundamental to the great progress we’re making in minimising our environmental footprint.”

Empire Company president and CEO Michael Medline said: “We are thrilled to be part of this unique partnership and work with other global leaders in grocery retail to drive innovation that will both benefit our customers and address key issues facing our industry.”

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