It’s no secret that Amazon has been on manoeuvres in the UK grocery market for some years now.
If the 2016 agreement with Morrisons to supply a range of the supermarket’s ambient, fresh and frozen products didn’t break its cover then the acquisition of seven Whole Foods Market stores as part of a global $13.7bn deal most certainly did.
Recruitment to its food business has been done rather more surreptitiously, but here too the scale of Amazon’s ambition is becoming increasingly apparent. Over the weekend, The Telegraph revealed a significant increase in recruits to its Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service, and this week, The Grocer reported that ex-Tesco man John Farrell is now on the online giant’s payroll.
That Farrell describes his new role simply as ‘special projects’ has a fittingly covert feel for a business that keeps its plans close to its chest for as long as possible before unleashing them on the market.
Perhaps some clues are to be offered by Farrell’s experience in the grocery sector which is split between commercial and change management roles. He began his career at consumer goods giant Unilever where Farrell’s roles included managing the Tesco account and heading up the Walls ice cream brand.
He left in 2008 to join Tesco in a Retail Executive role, as Category Director before being promoted to the position of Commercial Director responsible for packaged foods and beers, wines and spirits in 2012.
In 2015, Farrell became MD for new business development marking a shift to a more strategic role which more recently encompassed the title of group transformation director.
With two decades worth of experience working for the UK’s leading supermarket chain and one of its biggest suppliers under his belt it’s easy to see the value Farrell can bring to a business like Amazon that, for all its financial muscle, is still learning the whims and vagaries of the UK grocery market.
It’s unclear exactly where Farrell’s strategic skills will be deployed. Rumours have been circulating in the grocery sector about the possibility of Amazon taking on Sainsbury’s and Asda stores in the event the proposed merger of the supermarkets is approved, however, the provisional findings of the CMA appear to have put paid to any imminent deal.
What we do know for certain is that Amazon is looking to grow its Fresh business in the UK and has recently boosted its ranks with the hire of former Procter & Gamble director Russell Jones as country manager for the business.
Amazon is also keen to grow its checkout-less Amazon Go convenience store format outside of the US. Despite its size, it will take time and considerable market knowledge and expertise for Amazon to scale both its online and convenience operations. For these reasons, it seems inevitable that its army of grocery experts will only grow in the months and years ahead.