Waitrose, the John Lewis Group-owned supermarket chain at which Britain's middle class collectively worships the god of sun-dried tomatoes, today (Friday) launches an online grocery shopping venture.

Branded Ocado – derived from avocado – it aims to deliver its gourmet offerings, along with more mundane items such as baked beans and cornflakes, direct to 65% of all UK homes within the next five years.

Founded by two ex-Marks & Spencer executives and three former Goldman Sachs staffers [WAMN: 15-Jun-01], Ocado is initially confined to just 100,000 London households but will roll-out to the whole of the capital by the end of this year.

Unlike established online rival Tesco Direct, Ocado is building its infrastructure from scratch with a massive 3000,000 sq ft distribution centre in Hatfield, initially to serve the London area but with capacity to extend to the whole of south-east England.

The venture looks to have an impressive pedigree. Not only has John Lewis – a business not known for rushing in where angels fear to tread – committed £46 million in funding in exchange for a 40% stake in Ocado, investment bank UBS has also invested £20m.

The site (www.ocado.com) has some neat features including a unique and fast shopping list facility.

News source: MediaGuardian.co.uk