Reliance stunned Amazon in battle for India’s Future Retail
MUMBAI, March 6 (Reuters) – At a large Future Retail (FRTL.NS) supermarket in Mumbai last week, workers were unloading hundreds of bright blue grocery crates belonging to India’s biggest retailer Reliance.
Prospective customers were turned back by security, disappointed at the closed state of the store that still carries the signage of Future’s biggest brand, Big Bazaar, but which will likely soon be rebranded as a Reliance outlet.
Across India, similar scenes are being played out as Reliance Industries India’s biggest conglomerate run by Mukesh Ambani, the country’s richest man, presses ahead with a shock de facto takeover of prized retail real estate that Amazon has been keen to take part-ownership of.
The high-profile bitter dispute between corporate titans in which Amazon has sought to block Reliance’s planned $3.4 billion purchase of Future Group’s retail assets is currently before India’s Supreme Court.
Reliance’s takeover began with utmost stealth on the night of Feb. 25 when its staff began arriving at Future stores. Many in Future’s management were in the dark about the plans as store employees from all over the country frantically began to call, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
“It was tense, everybody was panicking. We didn’t know who they were. They wanted access and seniors didn’t know about it,” a New Delhi Big Bazaar store employee said, describing what happened around 8 p.m. that day.
At a Future store in Sonipat town in northern Haryana state, announcements were made asking customers to leave as Reliance seized control, one source said. In Vadodara in western Gujarat, Future employees arriving for work the next morning were asked to go back home with no explanation, said another source.
Citing unpaid payments by Future, Reliance has taken control of operations of some 200 Big Bazaar stores and has plans to seize another 250 of Future’s retail outlets. Combined, they represent the crown jewels of Future’s retail network and around a third of all Future outlets.