Ahold has boosted its US presence and branched out to capitalise on the booming eating out sector with the purchase of US Foodservice, the country's second largest foodservice distributor. The $3.6bn deal makes Ahold the supplier to 140,000 restaurants and catering companies in the US and will add $7bn to its annual sales. President and ceo Cees van der Hoeven said it would help Ahold become "the world's best multi-channel food provider". "It considerably expands our US geographical reach and provides us with significant additional growth," he said. A deal of this size has been on the cards since Ahold said it was targeting 10 possible companies with sales totalling $35bn late last year. Van der Hoeven said there was still a 50% chance Ahold would merge with or be acquired by another large retailer in two to three years. He added the US food service market was fragmented but had double the growth rate of the retail sector. He also pointed to US Foodservice's e-business as a tool for expansion. Ahold expects to sell $230m of goods over the internet this year, doubling the figure in 2001. But only the US Foodservice site and nextdaygourmet.com are breaking even. Ahold is also taking a stake in GlobalnetXchange, the business to business online exchange launched last week by Carrefour, Sears and Oracle. Foodservice is not a new sector for Ahold ­ it already operates Deli XL in Holland, and is teaming up with Scandinavian company ICA. l Ahold wants to build a global brand for its e-commerce operations said chief financial officer Michael Meurs. He added the company was looking for a partner to deliver goods ordered on its web sites. {{NEWS }}