Dutch retailer Ahold has signed a US$73m rescue deal with ailing US internet grocer Peapod. Peapod's future was looking bleak in March when the company announced it was down to its last $3m after a consortium of investors withdrew funding worth $120m. This was followed by speculation the company would be taken over by Wal-Mart, whose vice chairman Daryton McLane is also a director at Peapod. But now the partnership deal with Ahold sees the Dutch retailer acquiring a 51% stake. Peapod works closely with Ahold's operating companies Stop & Shop in Boston and Edwards in New York. The new deal will see even closer supply chain links when up to 50 storage areas at Ahold stores are gradually converted into efficient fast pick fulfilment centres for Peapod. Ahold's US president and ceo Bob Tobin said: "Our partnership with Peapod enhances our e-commerce strategy and positions both companies as leaders in online food shopping. "While Peapod can grow significantly by using our financial strength and buying power, Ahold will accelerate its e-commerce grocery activities and gain access to Peapod's formidable online experience." Tobin added the partnership potential could stretch to worldwide operations. l Peapod's US rival Webvan has announced expansion plans in 2001 which could see the company more than double in size. Speaking at a net retailing conference in Las Vegas, Webvan's chief financial officer Robert Swan said the company was looking for "either debt or equity financing" to fund the expansion. Webvan raised $403m when it went public last November and is due to open its second distribution centre in Atlanta in May. A further two centres will follow this year. Swan says the company aims to open nine more in 2001. {{NEWS }}