Uber sells India food business to Zomato to cut losses

The driver app on the windshield of an UberX in 2014. Photo for The Washington Post by Evelyn Hockstein.

Uber Technologies Inc. will sell Uber Eats in India to local rival Zomato in a $172 million deal, according to a person familiar with the transaction, underscoring the ride-hailing giant’s effort to cut back on loss-making operations.

Uber agreed to offload the business in return for 9.99% of the Indian startup, maintaining a foothold in one of the world’s fastest-growing internet arenas, the companies said in a statement. As part of the deal, the U.S. company will shutter operations but direct all restaurants, delivery companies and diners to Zomato. Neither company offered up financial details but the person said the value of the Zomato shares Uber gets is estimated at about $172 million. The Indian startup was last valued at $2.2 billion.

The deal marks yet another leg in a wave of consolidation sweeping the food delivery sector. Uber, which is trading well below the price at its initial public offering, seeks to hive off money-losing businesses to achieve its goal of being profitable — before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization — by 2021. While it will continue to vie with Ola — also backed by SoftBank Group Corp. — in ride-hailing, exiting the food business can help staunch bleeding in one of the most competitive markets in the region. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has impressed upon the companies within his massive portfolio the need to curtail excess and focus on the bottom line.

“It is another proof point — following our decision to exit Uber Eats South Korea in October 2019 — of our commitment to take a hard look at Eats markets where we do not have a path to leadership,” said Nelson Chai, Uber’s chief financial officer, in a financial filing. “At least some of the investment that we would have otherwise made in India will now be redeployed to other countries we serve where we believe we have a clear path to No. 1 or No. 2.”

Uber expects to see a gain of about $143 million, net of tax, as a result of the deal, according to the filing. The shares were up about 1.7% in premarket trading in New York Tuesday.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

“Uber’s sale of its Eats business in India makes sense, and echoes a similar step in South Korea as it cuts ties with unprofitable markets,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mandeep Singh wrote in a note. “Pulling out of India could kick up a 500 basis-point headwind to the Eats segment’s sales growth yet deliver a 10 percentage-point boost to its Ebitda margin, which remains substantially lower than those of peers such as Just Eat and Grubhub.”

Uber started its food-delivery business in India in 2017 with much fanfare and a huge marketing budget. The San Francisco-based company has since poured resources into the operations to lure users with bargain food deals delivered to the doorstep, but it’s pitted against competitors with powerful investors.

Naspers-backed Swiggy and Zomato, backed by Jack Ma’s Ant Financial, now lead India’s food-delivery sector, which like elsewhere is showing signs of consolidation. Bangalore-based ANI Technologies Pvt, which owns the Ola ride-hailing brand, acquired the Indian unit of Foodpanda in December 2017 and also faces an uphill struggle against the two established players.

Uber, whose shares are down 22% from their 2019 IPO price, said it will continue to expand its core Indian business after unloading Eats. Employees that lose their jobs as a result of the deal can reapply for other roles within the company, the person said.

“India remains an exceptionally important market to Uber and we will continue to invest in growing our local rides business,” Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in the statement.



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