Amazon and Deliveroo dismiss 'speculative' CMA probe

27 January 2020, 16:09 | Updated: 27 January 2020, 17:34

A competition probe into Amazon's proposed investment in the food delivery app Deliveroo is "speculative and not supported by evidence", the two companies have warned regulators.

Sky News has learnt that Deliveroo has informed its major investors that a joint submission to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) included a robust dismissal of watchdogs' reasons for launching an in-depth investigation.

Details of the companies' objections to the CMA's decision to order a phase two inquiry are expected to be published this week.

A shareholder in Deliveroo said on Monday that the submission accused competition authorities of a series of misunderstandings about Britain's food delivery market.

In particular, it is understood to say explicitly that Amazon, which pulled out of takeaway deliveries in 2018, had no plans to re-enter the sector.

The CMA has argued publicly that by allowing Amazon to lead a $575m (£440m) fundraising by the UK tech company, it could diminish competition by removing the possibility of the internet behemoth returning to the market.

In evidence submitted to the regulator, Amazon and Deliveroo are understood to argue that it has also failed to take account of the different business models employed by the two companies.

In addition to restaurant takeaways from chains such as Byron, Pizza Express and Wagamama, Deliveroo has been experimenting with grocery deliveries.

The companies' submission argues, however, that Amazon's grocery delivery service competes with those of Sainsbury's and Tesco while Deliveroo's is more akin to that of Uber Eats.

The two companies are also said to dispute the CMA's suggestion that Amazon would exert "material influence" over Deliveroo by virtue of its planned investment, which would equate to an undisclosed minority stake in the British business.

Under the terms of the deal unveiled last May, Amazon would have a seat on the Deliveroo board but would not have superior voting rights to any other shareholder-director, according to one investor.

The string of private rebuttals of the CMA's arguments is at odds with the conciliatory tone of the two companies' public statements.

A spokesperson for Deliveroo declined to comment on the content of its submission but said: "Deliveroo has been working closely with the CMA and will continue to do so.

"We are confident that we will persuade the CMA of the facts that this minority investment will add to competition, helping restaurants to grow their businesses, creating more work for riders, and increasing choice for customers.

"Deliveroo is a British company operating right across the country and this investment will be particularly beneficial to the UK economy."

The publication of the CMA's issues statement is a further staging-post ahead of a deadline for its statutory decision in June.

Last week, the regulator made an unexpected intervention in another deal in the burgeoning restaurant delivery sector - Just Eat's £6bn merger with Takeaway.com of the Netherlands.

The hypothetical nature of the CMA's interventions has caused alarm among tech investors concerned that its approach may act as an inhibitor to innovation.

Deliveroo is likely to need to secure alternative funding in the coming months if Amazon's investment is blocked outright.

Amazon recently denied a Bloomberg News report that it had offered a loan to Deliveroo while the CMA investigation runs its course.

The US-based company said: "A homegrown UK business like Deliveroo should have broad access to investors and supporters.

"Amazon believes that this investment funding will lead to more pro-consumer innovation by helping Deliveroo continue to build its world-class service and remain competitive in the restaurant food delivery space by creating more highly skilled jobs, innovating in the restaurant food delivery sector, and developing new products for customers."

The CMA responded by saying: "Our initial investigation found UK consumers could be negatively affected if the deal went ahead, as Amazon could be discouraged from re-entering a market in which there are only a small number of companies that act as the middleman between restaurants and customers, and that it could also damage competition in the emerging market for online convenience grocery delivery."