France's Carrefour launched its second Russian store on Thursday with a pledge to pursue acquisitions in the country, and said the crisis had not changed its long-term vision of the market.
Carrefour opened its debut hypermarket in Moscow in June, during Russia's first recession in a decade, and plans to open one more outlet in the city of Lipetsk this year.
For Carrefour, (the) Russian retail market has outstanding long-term potential. Despite the crisis, we are not going to change our long-term vision of this country, Carrefour Russian director Jacobo Caller told reporters at the opening of the store in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
With Brazil, India and China, Russia is one of the priorities in the long term expansion of Carrefour, he said.
Carrefour has suffered more than most due to its exposure to weak western European markets, and its efforts to expand in emerging markets are closely watched by investors.
Carrefour, the world's No. 2 retailer after U.S. company Wal-Mart, has long been linked with a takeover bid for Russian grocer Seventh Continent.
Shares in the upscale Moscow grocery chain spiked on Tuesday when a newspaper said French bank Natixis had bought the debt of Seventh Continent's main owner, Alexander Zanadvorov.
Caller declined to comment when asked about Seventh Continent, but said Carrefour would not limit itself to organic growth in Russia, where it is targeting a top-three market position.
We are looking for different opportunities in Russia. That includes, of course, the possibility of acquisitions of companies, Caller said.
At the moment, we have no deal on the table. But I insist that mergers and acquisitions are one of the possibilities.
He added that Carrefour would present its strategy for the next three years in Russia in two months' time.
Krasnodar is already home to numerous local and international retail chains, including Germany's Metro and Russian Magnit but Caller said that tough competition was not scaring the group away from this market.
I prefer to consider competition as additional stimulus to everybody. Finally, it's the customer who is going to decide.
(Editing by Simon Jessop)