Tesco and Dunnes Stores, the two dominant players in the E8bn Irish grocery market, have been given a warning to mind their backs ­ another challenger is aiming for the number one spot. The SuperValu chain of independent stores, operating under a Musgrave franchise, is predicting that it will be the largest grocery retailer in the Irish Republic by the end of 2005, with sales of more than E2bn. "It could even happen earlier than that," according to the man making the forecast, Michael Nason, managing director of the Musgrave SuperValu-Centra group. At a SuperValu national conference in Galway last week, he reported that the chain's turnover last year reached E1.46bn, an increase of 10% on the previous year's figure. "The 10% growth in sales was achieved against a background of intense competition," he said, "and is testament to constantly improving standards in the independent stores. SuperValu as a single brand will be the largest retailer in the country by the end of 2005 at the very latest, and possibly much earlier." SuperValu, with 170 owner-operated stores in the Republic, claims a 17% market share, while Centra, its convenience store stablemate, has 7%. Nason said Dunnes and Tesco have about 19% each, though others estimate their share at three to four points higher than that. The conference heard SuperValu is beefing up its challenge with retailers investing more than E150m this year in new and exisiting stores. and expanding existing ones. An additional E70m is to be invested in technology and logistics infrastructure. SuperValu had a further cause for conference celebrations ­ in a European-wide index of customer satisfaction, it topped the Irish supermarket sector in six out of the seven listed categories. Dunnes, last year's leader, was pushed into second place. {{NEWS }}