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Belgium: Russian discounter Mere to enter market in Flanders

Russian discount retail chain Mere (owned by the Russian Schneider family) plans to open 10 stores in Belgium by the end of 2021. With a minimalist store concept reminiscent of the 80s and budget-friendly prices, it sees opportunities at the economy end of the market.

Mere: A new player will soon join the retail landscape in Belgium, of which Flanders is the northern region.

Russian discount chain Mere announced on its website that it wants to open 10 stores in the country this year. The exact locations are not yet known, except for three sites: one in Flanders (Opwijk) and two in Wallonia.

No-frills stores

Mere sells food, household products and pet food, in addition to production surpluses,” explained Stefan Van Rompaey of specialist retail site RetailDetail in De Tijd. "Think of it as a combination of Aldi from the 1980s and an outlet chain that sells stock lots." Mere promises customers the very lowest prices, which is precisely why retail experts suspect Mere might be successful. In recent years, traditional retail chains on this end of the spectrum, such as Aldi and Lidl, have moved closer to the middle of the pack by offering more fresh products and well-known brands. Mere offers no branded products and spends little money on marketing or store design. The company’s stores are spartan: no shelves, and a limited range of 1,500 to 2,000 essential products are displayed on pallets.

The number of staff in Mere stores is also kept to a strict minimum. A lot of people don't care about a nice store layout. Mere's rock-bottom prices may be what sets the chain apart from others. Stefan Van Rompaey chief editor at RetailDetail Ultimate economy pricesIn De Standaard, Gino Van Ossel, retail expert at the Vlerick Management School, indicated that the arrival of Mere could have consequences for the supermarket landscape in Belgium and Flanders: "If a new retailer can offer rock-bottom prices, there is a good chance that all supermarkets will follow that trend. Initially this will be local, but in the long term, it might have a larger effect."

European conquest tour

Mere might still be unknown to us, but it is by no means a small player. The company is one of the largest discounters on the Eastern European market. In Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the chain operates under the name Svetofor. The retailer operates more than 2,000 stores in nine countries, accounting for EUR 1.3 billion in sales. In 2018, the discounter began a European conquest tour. Under the name Mere, it has already opened stores in Romania, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Spain.

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