Morrisons is planning a move into Scotland with a clutch of new stores in and around large cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The move would give the Bradford based chain a national presence with stores stretching from Erith to Falkirk as it expands its portfolio beyond its traditional stronghold in northern England.
Property director Roger Owen said planning permission had been secured for Morrison's first Scottish store, which will be built on the pitch of Falkirk FC's Brockville stadium, with several other sites under review in central Scotland. "We have exchanged contracts at Brockville," said Owen. "And it's no secret we have ambitions in the Scottish market." However, he would not reveal details of store numbers or investment plans for Scotland, and declined to comment on reports that management had set aside Â£150m for a 15-store invasion'. There are no immediate plans for a distribution centre, said Owen, with any Scottish stores being serviced from depots at Wakefield and Northwich.
Morrison is the only multiple with no stores in Scotland, and analysts said a move north of the border would make sense for the chain, which has a format adaptable to most markets.
However, they had not been briefed on any detailed investment plan for Scotland.
The Scottish market has traditionally been dominated by Safeway, which recently relinquished market leadership to Tesco. TNS data for the 12 weeks to October 13 shows Tesco heads the Scottish league table with a 22.4% share of the market, against Safeway's 18.2%. Asda is rapidly catching up with an 18% share.
Tesco has 75 Scottish stores and is also gearing up for a blitz on Scotland, targeting brownfield sites and entering the Scottish Highlands in the next few months.
Asda recently opened its largest supercentre in Scotland at Livingstone and has announced plans to pump millions into a refurbishment plan to upgrade 15 of its 34 Scottish stores.
Safeway is investing Â£70-80m a year over the next two years in Scotland,where it also plans to open new stores. Morrisons is also looking to extend in the south, where it is negotiating the purchase of a third RDC.