French supermarket Casino is reported to be in talks with various groups in Italy, including the market leader Coop, for entry into Italy's supermarket sector, beginning with discount outlets.

Casino, with 7,000 outlets in 14 countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia, could become another French entry into the sector in Italy following Auchan, which is allied with Rinascente, and Carrefour, operating with Italian Gs, in addition to reported interest by US giant Wal-Mart. Foreign companies already control 41 % of the sector.

While official confirmation was lacking, knowledgeable analysts reported today [Wednesday] that Casino, through its Leader Price unit, is interested in taking over an established discount unit or form an alliance. According to Il Sole 24 Ore, talks have been ongoing for some time between Casino and Coop for Coop's 200 discount outlets generating an annual business of Lit700bn (US$328m), which is believed to be considered low by Coop.

According to analysts, Casino may also be negotiations with local discount stores in the centre and north of Italy.

Some analysts said the entry unto the discount sub-sector may only be the first step for Casino for its larger interest in the general supermarket field.

Meanwhile, Rinascente today said its H1 sales grew by 4.7 % to reach €2,673m and net profits increased to €2.8m from €1m in H1 of 2000.

By Hilmi Toros, just-food.com correspondent