LONDON -(Dow Jones)- J Sainsbury PLC (SBRY.LN) said Wednesday it is set to buy 18 filling stations currently under the Total brand from private equity firm Rontec Investments LLP, highlighting the continued importance of fuel to supermarkets as they try to attract cash-strapped customers.
The retailer said the deal is subject to approval from the Office of Fair Trading, but didn't say how much it would be paying for the service stations, which are located around the U.K.
"The acquisitions provide a unique opportunity to support our plans for growth and to extend the reach of the Sainsbury's brand," said Phillip Bell-Brown, director of property development at the company. He added that current Rontec employees would have the opportunity to move to work for Sainsbury.
According to industry body Experian Catalist's fuel market review for 2011, Sainsbury has an 8.7% share of the U.K. fuel market, with 262 outlets, making it the No. 6 participant in the market and the No. 3 of the supermarkets, behind Tesco PLC (TSCO.LN) and Wm. Morrison Supermarkets PLC (MRW.LN).
Rontec bought French energy giant Total SA's (TOT) network of filling stations in 2011. The brand covers 918 outlets across the U.K., but accounts for only 7.3% of the market.
Although margins are low on fuel, supermarkets use promotions to drive footfall into stores and boost market share. Earlier this year, Morrison sparked a petrol price war when it launched a promotion giving shoppers 15 pence off each liter of fuel if they spent GBP60 in the store, prompting rivals to launch similar deals.
Supermarkets have remained tight-lipped on the potential impact of a proposed strike by fuel tanker drivers in the U.K., despite signs of panic buying at some outlets.
Trade union Unite and the government remain in talks to avert industrial action over better working conditions and health and safety regulations.
Meanwhile, latest figures from the British Retail Consortium showed retail sales rose 1.3% on the year in March, boosted by a period of unseasonably warm weather.
-By Peter Evans, Dow Jones Newswires; 44-20-7842-9308; firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 11, 2012 09:18 ET (13:18 GMT)
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