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Tesco, iVillage Launch iVillage.co.uk

[London, ENGLAND] Supermarket chain Tesco and iVillage, Inc. have launched iVillage.co.uk, an online community for women backed with a US $66 million investment.

Women are expected to make up 60 percent of the U.K. online audience by 2005, according to Tesco, and the new site is intended to dominate this market in both the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland.

Hillary Graves, joint managing director of iVillage UK, described the site as being the place women will go to find information and support around the most important issues in their lives.

"We're in an excellent position to launch as our U.S. site, iVillage.com, already has 200,000 UK users - which tells us there is a strong consumer need - and we have a fully funded business plan that will take us through to profitability," said Graves.

The U.K. site launches with channels covering such subjects as Computers and Internet, Diet and Fitness, Food, Horoscopes and Astrology, Pregnancy and Baby, Relationships, and Work and Career. Still missing are News and Politics -- but they will be added next month, say the site's management.

Not surprisingly, Tesco will be the exclusive grocer at iVillage.co.uk -- and it is clear that the supermarket hopes to increase its business as a result. It is committed to investing over US $17 million in cash, staff time and and promotions over a three-year period in what is described as a 50/50 joint venture.

John Browett, chief executive of Tesco.com, said the partnership allows the two companies to combine their respective strengths of retailing and community building. The result, he claimed, was a site that will save women time and make their lives easier.

iVillage UK has put together an editorial team consisting of 16 journalists and producers coming from the BBC, national magazines and newspapers and online media.

In the U.K., Boots the Chemist is the other big High Street name competing for the female audience with its well-established handbag.com site. Handbag.com serves as a showcase for Boots products and expertise in such subjects as health and beauty -- neither of which are mentioned in the main index to the current iVillage.co.uk content.

Whether women in the U.K. wish to be part of an online ghetto -- or gather information directly from specialist sites -- remains to be seen. Sheer marketing muscle from Tesco (721 stores in the U.K. and Ireland with a turnover US $29 billion) is likely to ensure their attention.