European retailers keen to boost their portfolios with foreign acquisitions are looking carefully at the Italian market, according to the latest report from Retail Intelligence. Italy is a "land of opportunity" for French, German and UK firms with little room for manoeuvre in domestic markets, says the report, highlighting Italy's rapid growth in retail sales compared to those in Northern Europe. "We would be very surprised" if Ahold and Delhaize "have not already compiled a list of potential targets in Italy," observed the consultancy, while an Italian deal for Casino or Auchan is "a distinct possibility". Analysts agreed Wal-Mart is less likely to venture into Italy, although a possible route in could be through the purchase of a French group with Italian interests, such as Auchan. One source said Wal-Mart has enough problems in Germany to deal with without taking the "bizarre step" of moving into Italy. And another suggested the Italian market is inherently unsuitable for Wal-Mart. "Big hypermarkets don't excite the Italian consumer." Likewise, retailers hoping to exploit "fragmented and immature" markets in central and southern Italy must expect a long wait before seeing any return on their capital. Eastern Europe remains a "far safer option," he added. Moreover, the Italian market lacks large retailing or distribution networks, said Michelle Wollf at Merrill Lynch. And attempting to establish a significant presence there might prove more difficult than expected. {{NEWS }}