The Belgian supermarket landscape is still reeling from Groupe Mestdagh‘s announcement to end its franchise agreement with Carrefour. 85 supermarkets – a quarter of all Carrefour Markets in Belgium – have suddenly become available for an interested buyer, but who could that be? Editor-in-chief Stefan Van Rompaey has some ideas.
A quarter of all Carrefour Markets
“A shake-up of the Belgian food market is imminent”, Van Rompaey, co-author of The Future of Food, predicts. Groupe Mestdagh takes a very drastic decision by terminating the master franchise agreement. Carrefour’s biggest franchise operator in Belgium wants to look for a new partner: the move promises to cause quite the stir.
Carrefour CEO Alexandre Bompard must have choked on the Christmas turkey: in one blow, his chain suddenly sees a quarter of its Market supermarkets in Belgium axed – the lion’s share of all his branches in Belgium’s French-speaking part would be lost without Mestdagh. A serious loss, which some slightly evil-minded people could even call the first step in the dismantling of Carrefour in Belgium.
Game of poker?
Will Bompard just let that happen? His company has recently been looking forward to making some acquisitions and has already expressed their wish to play a role in the further consolidation of the food landscape. Would Bompard not open his wallet and immediately recruit those rebellious Belgians? To add 85 stores to his own portfolio: it could be a nice end-of-year gift.
Or is that exactly what Mestdagh is secretly aiming for? Is it just a game of poker and is the move mainly a means of raising pressure? It is no secret that Groupe Mestdagh has been struggling for years, so maybe they just want better conditions in the first place. To further complicate matters: Carrefour is also a minority shareholder of this renegade franchiser.
Unique opportunity for Dutch newcomers
“One thing is certain: Mestdagh cannot continue on its own”, Van Rompaey says clearly. There just is not room for a company like Mestdagh in today’s hyper-competitive landscape. The breakaway from Carrefour, however, does offer a unique opportunity for Jumbo and Albert Heijn. Those two Dutch rivals are relative newcomers to the Belgian market and currently only have stores in the Dutch-speaking North of the country. “If they ever want to mean something in Wallonia, it is now or never. There will be no second opportunity like this. In one move, they could get a significant footprint in the South of the country. The time to open their wallets is now.”
Van Rompaey says a Dutch takeover is very realistic: Jumbo has always said that it has ambitions in Wallonia and as its Dutch history has proven, it is not afraid of major takeovers. Albert Heijn is gradually reaching full penetration in the Dutch-speaking part and has enough time to prepare the step calmly.
Or is it Cora and Casino?
Carrefour and the two Dutch rivals therefore seem to be the biggest contenders. There are not that many other options for Mestdagh, unless Cora wants to reinvigorate its Match chain now that it is rolling out a renewed store concept. The French Casino group already tried to access the Belgian market with its Franprix chain, and they may now go for a Belgian catch-up.
“The question is whether they want to invest so much in the Walloon market at the moment. Carrefour clearly has the most to lose, the Dutch chains have the most to gain. In any case, it will be an exciting year”, Van Rompaey says. And then it remains to be seen what the staff think of the turnaround: this will not improve the already feeble social tranquillity in the company.