Dutch retail group Ahold has announced its intention to divest its BI-LO and Bruno's supermarket chains, which both operate in the southeast region of the US.

Ahold said the intended divestment is part of its strategy to optimise its portfolio and to strengthen its financial position by reducing debt.

The company said it had made a strategic decision to focus its efforts on its remaining US food retail operations, including Stop & Shop, Giant-Landover, Giant-Carlisle, Tops, and Peapod, positioning them for growth.

Ahold said it intends to complete the BI-LO and Bruno's divestment process in 2004.

BI-LO, headquartered in Mauldin, South Carolina, was acquired by Ahold in 1977. The company operates 292 stores in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

Bruno's, based in Birmingham, Alabama, was acquired by Ahold in 2001. The company operates 178 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.