Ahold, Delhaize shareholders approve Benelux supermarket merger

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Shareholders of Dutch supermarket group Ahold AHLN.AS and Belgian peer Delhaize DELB.BR voted overwhelmingly to approve the companies' proposed merger on Monday, removing one of the last hurdles to the plan.

The Delhaize logo is seen on a sign in Brussels, Belgium, June 24, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Ahold is buying Delhaize for around 9.8 billion euros ($10.9 bln) in a deal announced last year that will create one of the largest food retailers on the U.S. East Coast, and by far the largest in the Benelux.

At an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting in Amsterdam, Ahold CEO Dick Boer underlined the potential cost savings, purchasing and other ‘synergies’ of the deal, which he estimated at a value of 4 billion euros.

“These companies fit with each other splendidly and it’s crazy how well they complement each other,” he said.

In 2015, the companies had a combined 62.6 billion euros in sales from 6,750 stores. Ahold owns the Stop & Shop and Giant supermarket chains in the United States and the dominant Albert Heijn chain in the Netherlands. Delhaize operates Food Lion and Hannaford in the United States and Delhaize in Belgium.

U.S. and Belgian regulators must still approve the deal, but analysts say it is unlikely to be blocked outright.

“From the Belgian authorities we expect we’ll have a minor number of stores from both will have to be sold,” Ahold CEO Dick Boer told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

“On the U.S. side we’re still waiting in a way for their views.”

Boer said he didn’t think concessions would significantly change the shape of the merger.

At the Amsterdam meeting, 99.9 percent of Ahold shareholders present voted for the merger, while 96.7 percent of Delhaize shareholders approved it at a meeting in Brussels.

Some Delhaize shareholders were at times emotional during a question and answer session, lamenting the loss of the supermarket chain, founded by Jules Delhaize in 1867, to foreign control.

“The lion is not dead. He’s just making another step in his career,” Chairman of the board Mats Jansson said, referring to Delhaize’s logo which features a lion.

Editing by David Evans and Susan Fenton