Shares in Ocado slide after robotic warehouse fire

Shares in Ocado slumped by more than six per cent after a fire tore through one of its robotic distribution centres in Andover, prompting the firm to warn it could lead to weaker sales.

The blaze, which began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, continued to burn into Wednesday and was declared a major incident when firefighters imposed an exclusion zone amid fears of a toxic gas leak or explosion.

The warehouse, which processes around 65,000 orders a week for the online supermarket and delivery business, sustained substantial damage to its roof - which partially collapsed in - and some of its contents.

In a statement, the company said: “As a result of this incident there will be a constraint on our ability to meet our growing customer demand and there will be a reduction in sales growth until we can increase capacity elsewhere.”

Ocado has compensated customers for cancelled orders but was not able to confirm to media when deliveries from Andover would resume. Staff at the site will be paid their scheduled hours until further notice.

It comes after the company reported widening losses in full-year earnings for 2018 as it invests in further partnership deals, while revenue rose 12.3 per cent to £1.6 billion.

Before the fire broke out, the online supermarket and delivery business had seen its share price double in the past year after it signed four partnership deals with major overseas grocery brands.

It said the losses were driven in part by investment in the group’s logistics and distribution network, including a fourth Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC) in Erith.

Media reports last week suggested that Ocado has been in secret discussions with Marks & Spencer over a potential delivery and logistics deal for the retailer’s online food business.

Neither company has commented on the reports.

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