Shares in Royal Ahold, the world's fourth largest food retailer by sales, have gained today (15 March) amid reports that a merger with Belgium's Delhaize could be on the cards.

With Ahold's sale of its US Foodservice division underway, the company is viewed as a better fit for Delhaize. The US market generates 80% of Delhaize sales and 70% of Ahold sales.

Ahold shares were up 3.45% at time of press, rising to EUR7.80, while Delhaize shares had risen 3.5% at 1.50pm (GMT), to trade at EUR66.76.

In a news conference to discuss fourth quarter profits, Delhaize CEO Pierre-Olivier Beckers downplayed the likelihood of a merger, stating that it was not a short term priority. However, he added that the company did not rule out the possibility of larger buys.