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Japan's Aeon proceeds with plan to sell Ministop Korea

Ministop Korea wraps up preliminary bidding after reviving the sale plan in three years

By Nov 30, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Japan's Aeon proceeds with plan to sell Ministop Korea

Japan's Aeon Co. has received preliminary bids for its wholly-owned subsidiary of Ministop Korea, which is estimated at around 200 billion won ($170 million), half of its proposed value back in 2018.

Aeon’s Ministop Co. put up 100% of the fifth-largest convenience store chain in South Korea, trailing behind homegrown rivals such as CU and GS 25 in the saturated market.

It recently wrapped up the preliminary bidding process for the sale managed by Samil PwC, according to investment banking sources on Nov. 30.

Aeon had 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.

E-Mart 24 Inc., the No. 4 player in the country's convenience store market, is understood to show interest in Ministop Korea, which boasts 2,603 stores nationwide. E-Mart 24 belongs to the country's retail titan Shinsegae Group, which bulked up through the series of acquisitions including eBay Korea and Starbucks Korea this year.

If it acquires Ministop Korea, E-Mart 24 with 5,169 outlets will be able to achieve economies of scale, the key factor that would improve the bargaining power with suppliers and cut logistics costs. 

The sector's first and second-ranked players CU and GS25 each run 14,000 stores across the country as of end-2020, compared with third-ranked 7-Eleven's 10,501. If 7-Eleven, operated by Lotte Group, takes over Ministop Korea, it will immediately become a frontrunner in the sector.

Japan's Aeon proceeds with plan to sell Ministop Korea

The reason behind Ministop Korea halving in value was its sluggish performance. In the year ended in February 2021, it turned to an operating loss of 14.3 billion won versus the previous year's operating profit of 2.7 billion won.

It has failed to adopt new business trends, such as offering delivery service by the sector's Big Three players from 2019 and hosting eye-catching collaboration events with food and beverage companies, which lifted sales of its rival brands.

"Under control of a Japanese group, Ministop was slow in making decisions and too cautious about new businesses," said a convenience industry source. "Its business focus on instant cooking food, which fits into large-size stores, might not have worked, either."

An obstacle to the planned sale is uncertainties about whether Ministop Korea's franchise stores will continue their operations under a new owner. As a condition of selling the South Korean operations, Ministop bans its franchisees in Korea from using the company brand. Thus, the franchise stores owned by individuals could shift to rival brands.

In South Korea, 60-70% of convenience stores are operated by individual owners who use the brand name in licensing agreements.

Write to Jun-ho Cha and Yoo-chung Roh at chacha@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article.
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