RETAIL veteran Sir Stuart Rose is to become chairman of online grocer Ocado in his most high profile appointment since stepping down from the helm of Marks & Spencer.

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Ocado announced today that Sir Stuart will take on the role when current chairman Lord Grade retires on May 10.

His appointment marks a return to the stock market after leaving M&S in January 2011 following a six year tenure with the high street giant.

It also comes as a major coup for Ocado, which recently reported a solid Christmas trading performance with sales up 14% to £91.6 million in the six weeks to January 6.

Sir Stuart, who has a home in Suffolk, said: “I have been very impressed at the impact and progress Ocado has made to date.

“As retail goes through a fundamental shift into the digital world, I believe Ocado’s model and the high standards of customer service it provides will see it emerge as a powerful online player.”

He joins Ocado as it faces intense competition from major supermarket chains such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Despite a successful Christmas, Ocado has yet to post an annual profit and has suffered a turbulent start to life as a listed company since floating in July 2010.

Lord Grade said he was leaving the company in the “best possible hands”, adding that the group will benefit from Sir Stuart’s “substantial retail experience and commercial acumen”.

Sir Stuart has maintained a low profile since leaving M&S, although he made his return to the high street last June as chairman of discount fashion chain Blue Inc, which has close to 200 stores.

He is also chairman of online fashion recommendation service Dressipi and is a non-executive director of Woolworths, the South African food and clothes group.

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