Amazon, the internet retailing behemoth, is in talks to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in the British food delivery app Deliveroo, giving it a huge boost in its international battle with rival Uber Eats.
Sky News can exclusively reveal that Amazon is close to announcing a deal to back Deliveroo as part of a $ 575m (£450m) fundraising.
Sources said late on Thursday night that the deal was likely to be unveiled by Deliveroo in the coming days.
If confirmed, Amazon is likely to invest a substantial proportion of the funds being raised by the British-based group, which has become one of the biggest players in the so-called ‘gig economy’.
The deal will come just days after Uber Technologies – which has been frequently been tipped to buy Deliveroo – sold shares publicly in New York.
Amazon is the world’s largest internet business, with a market value of roughly $ 920bn.
Its diversification beyond retailing into the provision of a vast range of services has propelled it into the rarefied ranks of companies worth close to – and on brief occasions more than – $ 1trn.
Its excursion into the UK food delivery market was, however, not among its unmitigated successes.
Last December, it closed Amazon Restaurants UK, its London-based takeaway delivery service, amid fierce competition from Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat, among other rivals.
Amazon had previously been reported to have made two approaches to buy Deliveroo outright, while Uber was said to have held preliminary talks with the British company about a takeover.
An investment in Deliveroo would rank among the largest single commitments by Amazon to date in a British-based start-up, although one insider cautioned on Thursday that it could yet fall apart.
The new round of funding will take the total amount of capital invested in Deliveroo to over $ 1.5bn in the six years since it was launched.
Sky News revealed last year that Will Shu, Deliveroo’s founder and chief executive, had begun talks with prospective investors about a new round of funding.
Many of the details of Amazon’s prospective investment were unclear on Thursday night, including how much of the £450m it would invest directly, and whether it would have an option to buy the company outright in future.
The valuation attributed to Deliveroo through this funding round was also unclear, although sources said last November that it was being pitched at a valuation of between $ 3bn and $ 4bn.
Deliveroo’s board, led by Mr Shu, is said to have been keen to crystallise a valuation well in excess of the just over $ 2bn at which it closed its most recent fundraising 18 months ago.
Deliveroo, which handles takeaway orders for restaurant chains such as Byron, Pizza Express, Rossopomodoro and Wagamama, uses about 15,000 delivery riders in the UK.
An initial public offering is also not out of the question, although it is unlikely to take place in the next year.
Deliveroo more than doubled its revenues in 2017 but also saw losses before tax widen to nearly £185m.
Such losses are not unusual among technology start-ups, which invest heavily to gain scale rapidly during their early years.
The previous Deliveroo fundraising saw major institutional investors Fidelity and T Rowe Price agree to invest in the UK technology company.
At the time, sources close to Deliveroo said it was keen to secure backing from mutual funds which had experience of investing in fast-growth tech companies, then helping them to go public.
Deliveroo has continued to faced controversy over its treatment of the riders who work for it, and did little to dissipate that criticism a year ago when it excluded its army of contractors from a £10m award of stock options to permanent employees.
In 2017, it bowed to pressure by overhauling the “supplier agreement” it uses to set out the terms on which thousands of couriers are employed.
Its revised employment document included the explicit clarification that couriers can work for other companies at the same time as they undertake work for Deliveroo – a key change that MPs had urged in a critical report on the so-called “gig economy”.
Like companies such as Uber and Hermes, the parcel delivery firm, Deliveroo has found itself in the crosshairs of critics who argue that they are riding roughshod over their workforces by refusing to treat them as employees.
Last autumn, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain brought a judicial review to the High Court alleging that Deliveroo riders’ human rights were being breached because they were being denied the right to collective bargaining.
Amazon and Deliveroo declined to comment.