John Wood Ahold is set to overtake Carrefour as the world's number two grocer this year, and is forecast to open up a E10bn lead over its French rival by 2004, according to a new report from IGD. It says Ahold forecasts a 17% increase on last year's sales to E77bn for 2002 driven by organic sales growth and consolidation of last year's acquisitions, while Carrefour is expected to achieve about E74bn. The report highlights Ahold's strength in the US compared with its European rivals. While Ahold owns six retail chains on the East Coast, and is ranked sixth in the US market, Carrefour, Metro and Tesco lack operations in the US, although Tesco is working with Safeway on its e-commerce venture. With the closure of Webvan and Homerun, Ahold's Peapod is the leading online grocer in the US, although it will not be extended significantly until it is profitable in its existing territory, which is expected by the end of next year. It is also number two in US foodservice sector, although in the short term it will need to concentrate on integrating recent acquisitions into the business. Looking to the longer term in the US the report forecasts further consolidation and suggests Ahold is likely to be a key participant. However, Ahold is much weaker in Europe than Carrefour, with sales of E21.8bn compared with E56.6bn, and while Carrefour is present in three of the five biggest markets in Europe, Ahold is present in only one. Ahold has proved highly successful at integrating acquisitions, but a flurry of deals have left it with record debts of just under E12bn, and in the short term is unlikely to be in a position make further acquisitions. International Retailer Profiles ­ Ahold is available from IGD priced £350 for members and £450 for non members. {{NEWS }}