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Coming to your neighbourhood - Reliance Fresh

BS Reporter  |  Hyderabad 

Updated at 1400 hrs: International media groups today closely followed Reliance Industries' first steps into retail trade reflecting the interest of businesses in their respective countries to tie-up with the Indian conglomerate for gaining a toe-hold in this lucrative market.

Scribes representing media houses from the US to Japan turned up for the inaugural of Reliance Fresh, the company's first outlet that would sell fruits, vegetables and groceries.

Reliance hopes to follow this launch, a pilot project, with the roll-out of a nation-wide chain of hypermarkets, supermarkets, discount stores, department stores, convenience stores and specialty stores with an investment of more than Rs 25,000 crore in the next five years.

"Our interest is as much as yours. They are investing six billion dollars (nearly Rs 27,000 crore), and they say even if organized retail grows to $100 billion it would be a fraction of the total market," a journalist with a leading UK-based financial daily said.

"Abroad, we cannot imagine shopping other than from a retail outlet. It is unthinkable that retail (concept) did not exist here," she said.

Interest from the Japanese media was particularly worth writing home about. "Japanese are keen to associate themselves with Reliance's upcoming format stores," said Takaomi Ohashi, a journalist with Japan Broadcasting Corporation.

"India's economy is growing, the retail market too is booming. As regards the middle-class, their style of consumption is changing and that is of interest," he said.

Japan's leading financial newspaper Nikkei had on October 29 - when the Reliance Fresh brand was unveiled - deputed its correspondent to the city to cover the event.

RIL's retail foray is being monitored by consumer durables makers in the land of the rising sun who view this as an opportunity to take on South Korean domination in the consumer electronics segment in India.

"It is a big-scale western type of a store and I think it's Reliance strategy that they want to (enter) before foreign retailers come," Japan's Jiji Press New Delhi Bureau Chief Tetsuya Katayama said.

Besides foreign wire services, representatives of media groups like The Times and The Christian Science Monitor, too, attended the 'Reliance Fresh' opening.

While the likes of global retail giant Wal-Mart and JC Penney, facing saturation in other markets, are waiting to enter the Indian market, government is yet to allow foreign direct investment in the sector.

New Delhi has, however, permitted 51% FDI in single-brand retailing with prior government approval.

Local aspirants like Bharti are preparing their retail blueprint through a tie-up with foreign players, possibly either Tesco or Carrefour. Indian corporate behemoth Tata Sons has already launched its retail brand Croma in association with Australia's Woolworths.

Updated at 1300 hrs: Reliance Industries' entry into retail trade may have been a matter of hype in the media, but company chairman Mukesh Ambani preferred to keep things low-key.

Mukesh and his wife, Nita Ambani, who is in-charge of branding for the retail initiative, skipped today's inaugural of Reliance Fresh, the first of several format stores that RIL plans to rollout soon.

Instead, company officials got homemakers who visited the shop today to inaugurate the outlets (11 of them in this teeming city of over four million).

"The presentation of the store and the freshness of products is what I like the most at this store," said T Pratibha Rao, the first customer at the Banjara Hills outlet, which she also happened to inaugurate.

"This (Reliance Fresh) is just a pilot - may be they are waiting for the bigger stores to happen," a source close to the project said.

Mukesh Ambani was here yesterday for performing rituals at the Balkampet outlet for the formal inauguration. He also visited the Reliance Fresh store in the upmarket Banjara Hills.

All the neighbourhood format stores have been designed by Nita who has in the past designed the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City in Navi Mumbai besides the Reliance Retail headquarters in NOCIL complex in Mumbai.

Updated at 1200 hrs: Reliance Industries, which rolled out its first retail store Reliance Fresh today, may start futures trading to mitigate price risks, but the move depends on achieving sufficient volumes after expansion of the retail format.

"Currently, there are no specific plans to enter into (futures) trading, but when there are sufficient volumes and if it is required to mitigate the price risk, we may have to do it," Sanjeev Asthana, president and chief executive (agri and food supply chain) of Reliance Retail, said on the sidelines of the launch of the company's outlet here.

In the event of its entry into futures trading, it will start with hedging staples, he said, adding that "today, the quantities are not large enough to warrant such hedging but in time if we have to do it, we will do it."

At present, the plan was to essentially link the retail store to supply chain, he said, but added that "if we have to use it for the purpose to add further value to the customers we will use it". (PTI)

Updated at 0930 hrs: The launch of 11 stores selling fresh produce, groceries and dairy products at various locations in Hyderabad, including the upmarket Banjara Hills, today mark the beginning of Reliance Retail

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First Published: Fri, November 03 2006. 16:40 IST