The aim is to close the growing gap with Tesco, the market leader, which has increased its share of the e6bn-plus Irish grocery sector to 26%, according to the latest TNS data, leaving Dunnes trailing at 22.4%.
News of the expansion comes shortly after the recruitment of former Musgrave executive Eoin McGettigan, who quit a top post with The Co-operative Group after three months to become Dunnes’ director of food.
At least half the 12 openings planned this year - in Ashbourne, Balbriggan,
Ballsbridge, Blessington, Maynooth and Navan - are in the Dublin commuter belt, an area that Tesco and SuperValu, the Musgrave-owned franchise chain, are already targeting. Two new outlets are also scheduled for Limerick and others for Drogheda, Rathdowney, Dundalk, County Laois, and Ballincollig in County Cork.
Dunnes already has 95 stores in the Republic, with 33 in Northern Ireland, 11 in Britain and four in Spain.
But in the Republic, its main market, Dunnes has been slow to add new stores. Eight years ago, when Tesco first moved in, after acquiring the Quinnsworth chain, both had a 20% market share. However, in recent years Tesco has expanded its Irish retail space by 20%, leading to a huge increase in market share.
With Tesco reportedly harbouring ambitions to build its slice to 30%, Dunnes has decided to fight back.
Marks and Spencer is also expanding in Ireland, with new stores planned for Drogheda, Newbridge and Swords.