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    INTERNATIONAL NEWS

    Sainsbury buys c-store operator; Ahold expects equity groups to buy chains.

    LONDON -- J Sainsbury plc, the United Kingdom's third-largest food retailer, acquired JB Beaumont Ltd., a long-established convenience store operator with six stores in the East Midlands.

    The stores brought in $24.8 million for the fiscal year ended May 29. JB Beaumont has been owned and run by the Beaumont family and one non-family member.

    The acquisition, following Sainsbury's purchase of Bells Stores in February and Jacksons in August, underlines the retailer's commitment to grow its convenience business by $764 million by 2007-2008. Sainsbury currently has 260 units in its convenience store portfolio, accounting for just over 2 percent of the c-store market.

    Jim McCarthy, managing director of convenience at Sainsbury's, said in a statement that the purchase will "increase our presence in the East Midlands. They have quality stores in good locations, and it fits perfectly with our new strategy to grow our portfolio of neighborhood convenience stores."

    In other news, Ahold, the Dutch retailer, expects to sell its two U.S. convenience store chains to a private equity group by the end of the year.

    The proposed sale of the Bi-Lo and Bruno's chains, announced last February, is the last major element of the $3.3 billion in divestitures in the wake of an accounting scandal that brought the company close to bankruptcy.

    Hannu Ryöppönen, CFO of Ahold, expressed confidence that the company would meet the initial target of selling the 470 stores this year. Ryöppönen said initial positive interest had been damped by the sale of stores by Winn-Dixie, the southeastern grocery chain, while he added the market had not got any easier. He added that private equity buyers had emerged as the front-runners after talks with trade buyers were "quickly over."

    Analysts had previously pointed to U.S. supermarket chains Kroger and privately owned Publix as potential acquirers of the loss-making chains, which are concentrated in the southeast. Industry insiders believe private equity funds Apollo and Cerberus are the main candidates to buy the assets.

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