German discount retailer Lidl has announced plans to invest as much as €30m (US$31.7m) in 2003 to open between 20 and 25 new stores in Belgium.

The group plans to increase its store portfolio to 250 stores within the coming three years, up from its current total of 170. Lidl has been operating in Belgium for seven years, a relative newcomer which has challenged compatriot hard discounter Aldi. Aldi has been active in Belgium for 25 years and now operates some 350 stores there.

Last year saw Lidl post sales worth €560m, a 15% year-on-year increase.

Meanwhile, the German group has announced plans to launch into Hungary during the second half of this year. Lidl has already purchased plots in a number of areas including Szekesfehervar, Debrecen, Pecs, Szeged, Veszprem, Budapest and Tapolca.

A HFt5bn (US$22.5m) training centre is under construction in Szekesfehervar, and the group plans to open 100 supermarkets throughout the country, reported the eBroker news service.

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Famed for its low prices, Lidl will pose a serious challenge to fellow German group Penny Market, a locally run subsidiary of the Rewe retail giant.