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Retail

Japan’s Aeon plans to sell off struggling Ministop Korea

Having entered Korea in 1990, the fifth-largest convenience store chain recorded its first annual loss in 2020

By Aug 23, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Ministop has been sluggish in both sales and expansion of new branches.
Ministop has been sluggish in both sales and expansion of new branches.

South Korea’s fifth-largest convenience store chain Ministop Korea Co. is up for sale by its owner, the Aeon Group of Japan. Ministop Korea is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aeon’s Japan-based convenience store unit Ministop Co.

According to the investment banking industry on Aug. 22, Aeon has selected Mizuho Securities for the sellout of Ministop Korea.

Aeon tried to sell Ministop Korea in 2018 with Shinsegae, Lotte and Glenwood Private Equity as the main bidders. The deal failed to close at the time as Aeon’s asking price was reportedly much higher than the prices put forward by the bidders at around 400 billion won ($341 million).

The banking sources say that sluggish performance is the primary reason behind Aeon’s decision to sell Ministop’s Korea business three years after the failed deal.

Not only the Korean convenience store market has long been saturated but Ministop’s own performance has also been stagnant versus the competition. Ministop Korea’s revenue shrunk from 1.16 trillion won ($989 billion) in 2018 to 1.08 trillion won ($921 billion) in 2020. The company last year also recorded its first annual operating loss, at 14.3 billion won ($12.2 million), ever since it started publishing audit reports in 2000.

Retail industry analysts expect that the Lotte Group and the Shinsegae Group will likely join the race again for the Ministop Korea acquisition. Lotte in Korea operates the third-largest player 7-Eleven, while Shinsegae owns the fourth-largest chain E-Mart 24.

Ministop Korea had a larger number of stores than E-Mart 24 until 2017, but Shinsegae’s unit boasted 5,301 stores nationwide by the end of last year versus Ministop’s 2,607. BGF Retail’s CU has the largest number with 14,923 stores, and GS Retail’s GS25 follows closely behind with 14,688 stores. Lotte’s 7-Eleven, which has 10,486 stores, makes up the “Big Three” players in the country with CU and GS25.

“Ministop’s competitors have been aggressive in increasing the number of branches lately. The anti-Japan boycott in Korea from 2019 must have also impacted Ministop, widely known as a Japanese brand,” said a retail industry official.

Ministop, a Japanese convenience brand, entered Korea in 1990. 
Ministop, a Japanese convenience brand, entered Korea in 1990. 

Aeon is likely to sell Ministop Korea through a limited tender involving only the major retail companies such as Lotte and Shinsegae rather than an open tender. Industry officials highlight that there are few firms other than Lotte and Shinsegae that will be interested in buying Ministop Korea.

“Lotte can strengthen its position as one of the top three players with the acquisition, whereas Shinsegae can create a ‘Big Four’ market landscape if it buys Ministop Korea,” said a convenience store industry official.

But others note that even Lotte and Shinsegae now have little interest, or ability, in buying Ministop Korea. They note that Lotte’s primary objective is to strengthen its e-commerce business, while Shinsegae is financially tight with recent series of acquisitions including eBay Korea and Starbucks Korea.

Meanwhile, Ministop Korea denied the news of the sellout.

“We checked with the Aeon Group. They said that the sellout news is unfounded,” said a Ministop Korea official.

Write to Jun-ho Cha and Dong-hui Park at chacha@hankyung.com

Daniel Cho edited this article.

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