Discount chain Aldi has dropped a bombshell into the Irish grocery sector by signalling plans for 80 new stores across the Republic.
The company has advertised for property owners to get in touch if they have green or brown field sites available, capable of accommodating 13,500 sq ft stores, plus parking.
The locations should have catchments of more than 30,000 people. The company says it is also interested in leasing new or existing space in retail parks or district centres
In an unprecedented expansion, the chain is looking for suitable sites for outlets in 39 areas of Dublin, north and south of the Liffey. It is also searching for store sites in 41 towns outside the Irish capital.
At present Aldi has just 10 stores in the Republic while its rival, German discounter Lidl, has built up of a network of 40. But if the current expansion plan is realised, Aldi would have a total of 90 outlets which would put it ahead of Tesco, currently at 78, and catching up on Dunnes, now at 125.
In just over three years, Lidl and Aldi have built a combined share of the Irish market of over 5%.
Irish trade sources, stunned by the scale of the proposed expansion, were predicting major price-cutting battles as Aldi and Lidl broadened their bases. "It will be a discount bonanza without question," said one observer, "and inevitably there will be casualties."
For the Ahern government, beset by rising inflation and the economic downturn, the extra competition offered by Aldi will be welcome. But local producers and suppliers will be a lot less happy, given that German imports, rather than Irish goods, already dominate the shelves of the discount chains.