Tatas, private equity investors in talks with BigBasket for stake buy

The report on Tata Group’s plan to invest in BigBasket comes amid the conglomerate looking to bolster its digital presence
Tata Group, along with a couple of other private equity investors, is in talks to invest money in Bengaluru-headquartered online grocery firm BigBasket, said reports. According to Financial Times, the Mumbai-headquartered automobile-to-technology conglomerate is looking at 20 per cent stake in the Alibaba-backed firm, apart from two board seats. A decision on this deal will be taken by the end of October, according to a report that cited a person in the know.

A Tata Sons spokesperson declined to comment on the issue. Hari Menon, co-founder and chief executive of BigBasket, also declined to offer any comment on the news. However, in an earlier meeting with Business Standard late last week, Menon had said: “We are in discussions, and will announce something soon.” He did not disclose the name of any prospective investors.

The report on Tata Group’s plan to invest in BigBasket comes amid news of the conglomerate looking to bolster its digital presence as it seeks to catch up with rivals like Amazon and Mukesh Ambani’s fast-growing retail empire.

In August, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran made it public that the group was building a super app that would go live in December. The group’s holding company is overseeing the project, with inputs coming from consumer-facing businesses, including Trent, Croma, and Tata Cliq, among others.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is believed to be actively involved in the super-app venture. It’s part of the Tatas’ larger plan to include retail, e-commerce, financial services, and entertainment in a single basket to make it convenient for the user, so that it can compete with Reliance Industries, Amazon, and Walmart-owned Flipkart.

In response to a potential stake purchase in BigBasket, a Tata Group official said: “We keep talking to several firms but nothing has been firmed up. Our e-commerce play will be really big and we’ll not contend with minor stake in any company.”

In January, BigBasket had appointed Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to assist it in raising $150 million in a funding round that was expected to be closed in June-July. However, after increased traction, the company saw during the pandemic, it deferred the plan. 

“We planned the fundraising before Covid-19. Based on that, we also raised a $60 million in April, mostly led by Alibaba, ahead of (its participation in) the proposed larger round in June-July. However, we are now relooking at the whole thing because we are generating money at the ‘contribution margin’ level and the business is also growing faster than before,” Menon had said in June.

Meanwhile, BigBasket continues to see huge traction as the online grocer enters into the year-end sale period. Menon said the firm was approaching the sale event in a phased manner. 

“We are not doing it as a long one, but breaking it into three parts. While the first just got over last week, the second one will begin closer to Dussehra, and the last phase closer to Diwali.”

In phase-1 of the sale, called ‘Big 47’, the unicorn is said to have witnessed huge success. “We are seeing excellent traction. Sales volumes are as high as they were during the early Covid days, especially the peak period in June-July,” said Menon. 

Though the firm is trying to collate data, daily orders might have touched as high as 415,000, he said.

During the lockdown, the company was executing around 350,000 orders a day, compared to 220,000 orders during pre-Covid, even though it had reduced the number of items stock-keeping units to 18,000-20,000 owing to curbs in inter- and intra-state transportation.

“We are now much higher compared to the pre-Covid level; there is absolutely no comparison with that,” added Menon.

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