From Bradford market stall to the UK’s fourth largest supermarket chain: How Morrisons transformed the way we shop

Bradford-based Morrisons is one of the best known brands in Britain, serving around nine million customers a week through a network of 497 supermarkets.

Bradford-based Morrisons is one of the best known brands in Britain
Bradford-based Morrisons is one of the best known brands in Britain

However, its origins are humble. It was founded in 1899, when egg and butter merchant William Morrison established a business in Bradford market.

The business started to take off in 1952 when Ken Morrison, who was aged 21, took over the small group of Bradford market stalls from his father.

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In 1958, the first Morrisons shop opened with three checkouts. It was the only store in Bradford to offer self-service and to have prices on its products.

In 1961, Ken Morrison opened his first supermarket in Bradford, Victoria, selling fresh meat, fruit and vegetables and other provisions.

By 1967 the company was enjoying rapid growth, which prompted it to go public.

The share offer was 174 times over-subscribed as more than 80,000 investors tried to purchase shares.

Three years later, the Hilmore House office, warehouse and factory complex opened in Bradford.

In 1976, Morrisons' first vegetable packing site opened at Cutler Heights in Bradford. Two years later, following the takeover of Whelan Stores, Morrisons operated in Lancashire for the first time.

In 1980, Ken Morrison opened Farmers Boy, a purpose built fresh food factory that trades as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Morrisons.

The first Morrisons distribution centre, Wakefield 41 went into operation in 1988.

By 1999, Morrisons had opened its 100th store, in Nelson, and opened its first store in the South of England.

Ken Morrison was knighted for his services to the retailing industry in 2000 and, the following year, Morrisons joined the FTSE 100 for the first time.

In 2004, Morrisons acquired Safeway and the company opened its first store in Scotland and a southern produce manufacturing site opened in Thrapston, Northamptonshire.

Sir Ken Morrison retired in 2008 after 55 years of service. He was honoured with an award for his ‘Outstanding Contribution to Retail’ at the Retail Week awards.

Using technology developed by Ocado, Morrisons launched its much-anticipated online food delivery service in 2014.

In 2016, Morrisons entered an agreement to provide a wholesale supply service to Amazon allowing its customers access to a wide range of Morrisons ambient, fresh and frozen products.

The following year, Morrisons announced a long-term wholesale agreement with McColl’s, which was extended in 2021.

In July 2021, Morrisons supermarket agreed to a £6.3 billion takeover bid from a consortium of investment groups.

The offer, led by Softbank-owned Fortress which has partnered with Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Koch Real Estate Investments, will see shareholders receive 252p per share plus a 2p special dividend.

The all cash offer is subject to shareholder approval.

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