Carrefour opened its fifth store in Beijing Wednesday, after three years of lying dormant in the national capital's market.
The new outlet, in the newly developed Zhongguancun West District, will be the French retailer's flagship store in Asia.
With a floor space of 11,600 square meters, much bigger than any other Carrefour store in the country, the latest outlet is comparable with Carrefour hypermarkets in Europe in terms of layout and other aspects such as food safety and environmental hygiene, according to company sources.
"The new store is very important for us, as it is located in a high-technology area, which is gathering a large number of IT enterprises and white-collar workers, as well as college students," said Jean-Luc Chereau, president of Carrefour China.
"And I hope it will be a good beginning for our growth in the area."
As an area that lacks big shopping centers and supermarkets, Zhongguancun is attracting more foreign retailers.
PriceSmart, one of Carrefour's major rivals, also plans to open its N-Mart supercenter in the area this year.
In the wake of the Zhongguancun Plaza store's opening, one or two more Carrefour stores will also be opened in Beijing this year.
And its store in Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong Province, will open soon, according to the company.
The openings are an obvious sign that Carrefour has begun to speed up its expansion in the country after two-and-a-half years of restructuring.
Entering the Chinese market in 1995, the retailer infringed upon foreign retail regulations about three years ago.
It was then ordered to sell its excessive shares upon the regulated 65 percent limit to local partners.
During the past two years, Carrefour has not been allowed to open a new store. It had to first restructure its existing outlets.
"Through two-and-a-half years' efforts, we have completed our revamp in China, and now we are heading into a fast-growing period for the country," Chereau said.
Company sources said Carrefour plans to open more than a dozen new stores around the country this year.
Last month, Carrefour opened two hypermarkets in Northwest China's Xinjiang Province and East China's Shanghai Municipality.
As more foreign retailers are gaining a foothold in China as the country lifts its limits on the industry, Carrefour is eager to expand and accumulate a greater market share, say analysts.
China, in accordance with its commitments to the World Trade Organization, will lift regional limitations on foreign chain retail operators by the year's end.
All restrictions on foreign retailers will be removed by 2007, when China's chain retail market will be fully opened up.
But, earlier this month, some 100 deputies submitted a proposal to the 10th National People's Congress, suggesting legislation on a hearing system for the opening of mega stores.
Industry experts say the proposal apparently targets the expansion plans of foreign-funded stores like Carrefour.
However, Chereau is not concerned.
"We can deal with the international trade concept, we are also able to deal with local ones, and I believe consumers will decide what they would have," he said confidently.
The French retailer ranked first among foreign supermarkets last year, with annual revenues of 13.4 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion), according to statistics from the China General Chamber of Commerce.
(China Daily March 18, 2004)