Ahold is planning to open 70 "mega-supermarkets" in the Netherlands over the next three to five years trading under its Albert Heijn fascia. The detailed design of the format is still being finalised, but about 20% of the selling space will be devoted to non food items such as cooking utensils and microwaves, said a spokesman. The Dutch group is also planning to extend its personal finance offering with a series of "simple financial products" to add to a savings account launched in February. Other initiatives by Albert Heijn tabled for 2001 are being kept under wraps so the chain can "surprise the competition," he added. Ahold is on track to generate record sales of 65bn euro this year, chief executive Cees van der Hoeven told shareholders at the group's annual meeting on Tuesday. "Your company is in great shape and the future is looking good." Announcing sales up 65.7% to 18.2bn euro for the first 16 weeks of 2001, van der Hoeven said Ahold was bucking the economic slowdown in the US and capitalising on the growing trend towards eating away from home by its recent acquisitions in the foodservice sector. Top of the agenda is building synergies between US Foodservice and the group's US supermarkets chains, which are now sourcing an increasing amount of products collectively. USF also supplies salad items to Stop and Shop and some Giant Landover stores. At 2.9%, like for like sales in the US are better than ever, said a spokesman, and fly in the face of the continuous flow of gloom from across the Atlantic. The company is also working on a closely guarded project to "develop food distribution in regions with an insufficient economic basis," he explained. "We want to use our knowledge and expertise to set up partnerships in poorer countries as part of a corporate commitment to develop socially responsible business practice." Details will be released later in the year. {{NEWS }}