METRO EYES POTENTIAL ACQUISITION OPPORTUNITIES

TORONTO - Metro here said it is concentrating on integrating the 236 A&P stores it acquired last summer while also keeping its eyes peeled for potential acquisition opportunities in western Canada."Integration remains our priority," Eric La Fleche, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said last week in a speech to investors at the CIBC World Markets retail conference here, "but if

TORONTO - Metro here said it is concentrating on integrating the 236 A&P stores it acquired last summer while also keeping its eyes peeled for potential acquisition opportunities in western Canada.

"Integration remains our priority," Eric La Fleche, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said last week in a speech to investors at the CIBC World Markets retail conference here, "but if western assets come into play, we'll do what we have to do to grow. We have our hands full with the integration now, but our westward growth will come through acquisition, if and when [opportunities arise]."

La Fleche did not specify what assets in western Canada could come into play, though previous reports have indicated various Canadian companies might be interested in acquiring Overwaitea Food Group, a chain of 106 supermarkets based in Langley, British Columbia.

Metro's primary focus for the next 18 months will be to complete the integration of the A&P stores, La Fleche noted. "We will pursue our objectives and deliver on the bottom line while minding the stores and not letting the business slip," he explained. "We have prioritized our goals and do not intend to pursue all opportunities at once.

"We expect to complete the integration and operate as one company with one IT platform by August 2007, and hopefully we'll see sales and profit growth in that time."

La Fleche said Metro plans to begin converting its seven Super C stores in Ontario to the A&P Food Basics banner later this month.

Metro also acceded to A&P's request that it wait for the chain's fiscal year to end on Feb. 25 before beginning to streamline A&P's Ontario division, La Fleche said. "We maintained the budgets and staff till then, and now we will begin to convert the Ontario operation into a division of Metro," he said.

Metro has already begun transferring best practices from one group of stores to the other, he added, including introducing cut fruit and the bakery programs from A&P stores into its Metro and Loeb stores.

With A&P holding a stake of about 15% in Metro as a result of the acquisition, La Fleche said it's possible the two companies may exchange ideas and programs on an ongoing basis.