AHOLD IS OPENING PILOT STORE IN CHINA

ZAANDAM, Netherlands -- Ahold here is slated to open a Tops pilot store in Shanghai, China, by February -- the first of 15 supermarkets the Dutch retailer plans for the city under a new joint venture.Earlier this month, Ahold entered a partnership with China Venturetech Investment Corp., Shanghai, to jointly develop and operate stores in the city. Shanghai Ahold-Zhonghui Sup-ermarket Co., a newly

ZAANDAM, Netherlands -- Ahold here is slated to open a Tops pilot store in Shanghai, China, by February -- the first of 15 supermarkets the Dutch retailer plans for the city under a new joint venture.

Earlier this month, Ahold entered a partnership with China Venturetech Investment Corp., Shanghai, to jointly develop and operate stores in the city. Shanghai Ahold-Zhonghui Sup-ermarket Co., a newly formed entity in which each company holds a 50% stake, will oversee the supermarket operation.

The first step in the agreement will be to convert 15 stores currently operated by Zhonghui Supermarkets to the Tops name and format, a store design that Ahold has developed for the Asian market, said Ahold spokesman Hans Gobes. The Tops logo -- from Tops Markets, Buffalo, N.Y., an Ahold USA chain -- made its Pacific Rim debut this month on two Malaysian stores.

Before remodeling more Zhonghui units into Tops, the joint venture plans to do extensive consumer research, Gobes said. Several stores, which will be about 22,000 square feet, are expected to open before the end of next year, he said. "We are going to open the one store and see how customers react. It's a completely different country. It's a completely different consumer," he told SN. "We are still learning what the Chinese customer wants. We may have to make some adjustments."

Long-term development in the Shanghai market includes "considerable expansion" totaling about $50 million, Ahold said. Gobes declined to give details about capital projects or how many stores are targeted for China.

Entering the Chinese market is part of Ahold's strategy to have between 200 and 1,000 stores in Asia in the next five to 10 years, Gobes said. Ahold is involved in store operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.