Family-controlled Auchan would consider buying fellow retail chain Esselunga, should the Italian family business came up for sale, according to media reports.
Vianney Mulliez, chairman of the French group, told Milan-based newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore that Auchan’s priority is to grow organically, but added that the group does not exclude external growth.
"I’m not sure that [founder and owner of the group Bernardo Caprotti] really wants to sell, and a change in ownership is always a difficult operation,” he said.
But he added: “If and when Esselunga really came up on the market, we would look at the dossier."
However, the acquisition of Esselunga may be complicated by the fact that Caprotti, who in October stepped down as chairman, said the group would remain Italian.
Following several foreign takeovers of Italian companies, such as LVMH’s acquisition of jeweller Bulgari and PPR’s purchase of clothing brand Brioni recently, many in Italy have called for greater protectionism. However, only 4% of the country’s companies are in foreign hands, compared with 10% in France and 12% in the UK, according to Fabiano Schivardi, research fellow at Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance.
In the interview, Mulliez also said there were no plans to list Auchan, pointing out this would put pressure on short-term results, conflicting with the retailer's long-term strategy.
“It’s unthinkable that the value of a company may be cut by half in a few months for reasons that are completely unrelated to its industrial results,” he said.
“Moreover, I think a listing is not compatible with our decision of involving the employees as shareholders,” he added.
About 150,000 of Auchan’s shareholders are employees, while a further 600 are members of the Mulliez family, which owns 84% of the company.
In 2010, Auchan reported revenues of €42.5 billion, while Esselunga, which is 100% owned by the Caprotti family, reported €6.4 billion.