Dutch retail giant Royal Ahold has announced that its 2002 sales rose 9.2% year-on-year to €72.7bn (US$75.6bn). In the fourth quarter, sales totalled €16.9bn, a 0.3% increase compared to the same period in the previous year. Ahold president and CEO Cees van der Hoeven said that 2002 had been a year of increasingly challenging trading conditions. "Sales slowed in the course of the year as a consequence of further deteriorating economic circumstances. However, we are encouraged by the fact that we strengthened our position in most markets. Compared to the third quarter, all regions showed slightly better organic sales growth. As announced on November 19, 2002, Ahold launched a three-year company-wide initiative focused on portfolio rationalization and debt reduction. This initiative is on track and we will comment periodically during the course of this year."