NYC-based online grocer FreshDirect to be acquired by Ahold, Centerbridge

FILE PHOTO: Grocery delivery men from FreshDirect load carts on 6th Avenue in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan during the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The online grocer FreshDirect agreed on Wednesday to be acquired by the supermarket operator Ahold Delhaize NV AD.AS and private equity firm Centerbridge Partners LLC, as the coronavirus pandemic and growing acceptance of e-commerce prompt more consumers to buy groceries online.

Ahold will take a majority stake and Centerbridge will own 20% of FreshDirect, which will keep its name and operate independently. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, and a closing is expected in the first quarter of 2021.

Based in the Bronx, New York City, and known for its green-and-orange trucks, FreshDirect specializes in fresh food, which it says represents more than 60% of sales.

The privately-held company was founded in 2002 and operates in seven U.S. states, including the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, and Washington, D.C.

Ahold is based in the Netherlands and has several U.S. brands, including Stop & Shop, Food Lion, Giant Food and Hannaford.

A recent study by e-commerce specialist Mercatus and the research firm Incisiv said online purchases should account for 10.2% of this year’s $1.04 trillion U.S. grocery market, triple the percentage in 2019.

The study also said online purchases may command 21.5% of a total $1.16 trillion grocery market in 2025, close to 60% above pre-pandemic estimates.

Larger retailers, including Inc AMZN.O and Walmart Inc WMT.N, are also increasing online sales of essentials such as food.

Goldman Sachs and the law firm Latham & Watkins advised FreshDirect on the transaction. Bank of America and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis advised Ahold, and the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson advised Centerbridge.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis