Morrisons has hired a digital heavy-hitter from Apple to lead its online food launch as it takes its next steps into etailing.

Simon Thompson joined the grocer this week from Apple, where he was worldwide strategy and customer experience director. Prior to that, he was general manager of Apple’s online store in Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, and has also worked for

Morrisons, which reported profits up 8% today, bought a 10% stake in US grocery etailer FreshDirect in March to learn about food online. It said it would launch online food in its 2013/14 financial year providing it could create a profitable proposition.

The hiring of Thompson as managing director online food signals that Morrisons is a step closer to launching an etail food offer.

A team from Morrisons has been embedded in FreshDirect since the acquisition to learn about online food retail, and consider how to build a viable business in the UK.

Those in the team include manufacturing division operations director Steven Clayborough, and logistics controller in its logistics division Jonathan Bridle.

Morrisons wants to launch its online food offer inside the M25 initially. It will face stiff competition there as all the grocers ramping up their online offers. Alongside Tesco, Ocado and Sainsbury’s, Waitrose is expanding online inside the M25 this year.

However, there remains a bigger market to play for. According to IGD, the UK online grocery sector is worth £4.8bn, and expected to double by 2015.

Morrisons is also moving closer to launching its non-food online offer. After snapping up baby products etailer Kiddicare in February, it has been working towards a non-food online launch in 2012.

Kiddicare founder Scott Weavers-Wright has been appointed managing director, non-food online, to lead the launch, which will be under the banner.

The grocer has already been running trials such as Kiddicare kiosks in stores, selling Morrisons-sourced consumables such as baby food on the Kiddicare site, and selling Kiddicare product, such as car seats, in its Morrisons shops during its recent maternity-related promotions.