(Corrects 4th bullet to delete reference to Belgian operations; corrects paragraph 6 to say Metro has looked at selling operations in Germany, not Belgium)
* Ahold CEO says evaluating growth in Belgium, U.S.
* Ahold has 3 billion in cash on balance sheet
* Buying up stores example of growth - Ahold CEO
* Carrefour, Metro have said sale of ops possible
AMSTERDAM, April 13 (Reuters) - Cash-rich Dutch supermarket group Royal Ahold NV AHLN.AS is mulling a roll out of its successful Albert Heijn chain into Belgium as it looks for ways to bolster its growth, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
“We see opportunities to grow in Belgium, to grow in the United States,” John Rishton told investors during Ahold’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
“We are evaluating organic growth for Albert Heijn into Belgium — in particular whether we can push over the border and use the logistic strength of our Dutch operation,” Rishton said.
Ahold, which makes almost 60 percent of its sales in the United States, is sitting on 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion) of cash and cash equivalent assets and is poised to grow after turning around stores and cutting costs before the economic slump hit in 2008.
Analysts have been speculating how and where Ahold could expand and have mentioned the Netherlands’s bordering countries Belgium and Germany as logical options. [ID:nL6681756]
France’s Carrefour (CARR.PA) and Germany’s Metro MEOG.DE have said they could sell supermarket operations in Belgium and Germany, respectively, if they failed to turn around their businesses in the country, which is the home market of Delhaize DELB.BR. [ID:nL6681756]
The Albert Heijn chain is market leader in the Netherlands, where it competes with Sligro (SLIGR.AS) and privately-owned chains.
The acquisition of 25 U.S. stores from Ukrop’s Super Markets Inc and five from U.S. Supervalu Inc SVU.N were “good indications of opportunities we believe will arrive in the current environment where the stronger will become stronger and the weaker become weaker,” Rishton said.
Ahold Chairman Rene Dahan said Ahold was focused on expanding its existing chains.
“We are looking at building on the strength of existing platforms, less on acquisitions which are just going to be bolt-on from different kinds (of stores) which are difficult to adapt in terms of both staff and expertise,” Dahan said. (Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger; Editing by David Holmes) ($1=.7351 Euro)