Morrisons is expected to launch its online food operation in the South East in late 2013.

The Bradford-based grocer is preparing to launch an online grocery operation in the second half of next year, the Sunday Express reported.

A source told the paper: “One thing that it’s considering instead of a nationwide roll-out, is targeting areas where there is a proven demand for online ordering, such as the South East.”

Morrisons last year took a 10% stake in US online grocer Fresh Direct to understand the workings of such as business.

Chief executive Dalton Philips has been clear in his view that, if Morrisons cannot find a profitable model for online grocery, it will not launch a service.

Morrisons is the only major grocer without an online offer. Tesco is the market leader with a £2bn online turnover while Sainsbury’s overtook Asda earlier this year into second place.

Morrisons will launch a non-food online business later this year.

A spokesman said: “Morrisons does not yet offer an online service as we do not believe any retailer in the UK has achieved the right balance of service to customers and profitable returns for sharehodlers.

“In any online offering we want to ensure good service for the customer and, as a business, that we make a profit.”