Abu Dhabi sheikh invests US$1 bil in top grocer LuLu

DUBAI: An investment firm backed by a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family agreed to buy a stake worth just over US$1 billion in LuLu Group International, which runs one of the Middle East’s largest hypermarket chains, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company led by Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan acquired an almost 20% holding in the Abu Dhabi-based supermarket group founded by Indian entrepreneur Yusuff Ali, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. It wasn’t immediately clear which company Sheikh Tahnoon is using for the investment or if he was buying the stake in his personal capacity, the people said.

Sheikh Tahnoon is the chairman of Royal Group, which has holdings in businesses such as media, trade, financing and real estate among others, according to its website. He’s also the chairman of Abu Dhabi Development Holding Co, also known as ADQ, which has assets including Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, Abu Dhabi Airports Co and a number of hotel and tourism facilities. Sheikh Tahnoon also chairs the UAE’s biggest lender, First Abu Dhabi Bank PJSC.

“We don’t want to comment on market rumours,” said V Nandakumar, Lulu’s chief communications officer. “An official statement will be issued if at all there are any updates.”

Representatives for Royal Group didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Biggest deals

Abu Dhabi, the holder of about 6% of the world’s proven oil reserves, is investing in local businesses to diversify its economy away from crude.

At just over US$1 billion, the LuLu deal ranks among one of the UAE’s largest consumer deals in recent years.

Majid Al Futtaim Holding LLC agreed to buy Retail Arabia, the owner of the Geant store franchise in the Middle East, for an undisclosed amount in 2017.

Ali is among a group of Indian businessmen who set up large businesses in the UAE and wider Gulf region during a decades-long oil boom.

Others include Sunny Varkey who set up GEMS Education and transformed it into one of the world’s largest privately-owned school operators and Micky Jagtiani of the Landmark Group.

LuLu also operates shopping malls and other businesses such as hospitality and real estate. It had annual turnover of about US$7.4 billion and employs more than 50,000 people, according to its website.