Bharti Retail to stick to Punjab, Haryana for rollouts this year

Bharti Retail to stick to Punjab, Haryana for rollouts this year

New Delhi: Having made a low-key entry into retail with several convenience stores in Punjab early this year, Bharti Enterprises Ltd is now planning to roll out its supermarket format in the same state by the end of the year.

Rajan Bharti Mittal, Bharti’s managing director and the head of the group’s retail venture, said the company will open supermarkets of about 40,000 sq. ft in Punjab. He declined to provide more details.

Bharti, whose promoters own India’s largest mobile phone company, Bharti Airtel Ltd, started its retail business in April in its founders’ home-town of Ludhiana, with three convenience stores called Easy Day. It now has nine stores.

Bharti’s expansion has been slower compared with rivals such as Reliance Retail Ltd, Aditya Birla Retail Ltd, Spencer’s Retail Ltd, who have opened hundreds of stores in an industry that is picking up steam even as it remains difficult and controversial in India where modern retailing is in its infancy.

Mittal maintains the expansion is “as per plan" and that the company won’t open stores outside of Punjab and neighbouring Haryana this year. He also said that even larger-format hypermarkets will open only next year.

Attracted by a burgeoning middle class that increasingly prefers to shop in air-conditioned branded stores, a host of Indian mid-sized companies as well as large conglomerates have ventured into the country’s $300 billion (Rs14.4 trillion) annual retail market that some consultants say will more than double in the next seven years.

However, the business has invited the ire of small shopkeepers who say the entry of big corporations into the country’s retail business will drive millions of mom-and-pop stores out of business.

Bharti plans to invest up to $2.5 billion to spread its retail business over 10 million sq. ft by 2015.

Meanwhile, Bharti has partnered in 50:50 joint venture with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to open about 15 wholesale or cash-and-carry stores in India in the next seven years.

Bharti Wal-Mart Pvt. Ltd will open its first wholesale store, which will only sell products to other retailers and businesses, near Chandigarh in the first quarter of 2009.