Slovenian food retailer Mercator has opened its first hypermarket in Albania as part of its plans to expand in south-east Europe.

The retailer, which now has a presence in seven markets in the region, invested EUR159m (US$227m) into developing its network during 2009, with 64% spent on foreign investments.

The new store situated at Citypark in Tirana, Albania, offers 15,000 food and non-food products located on a leased area of 4,500m2. The investment in the store exceeded EUR6m, which also included an Intersport store.

"Mercator has long-term and ambitious plans to invest in the Albanian market. The first hypermarket at Citypark shopping center employs about 130 people," the retailer said.

Mercator opened nine hypermarkets, 12 supermarkets and 14 grocery stores during the year.

"Even in the difficult economic situation, Mercator is seizing the opportunities available to act for development," the company said.

However, the firm added that the 2010 business environment will be "equally as challenging as 2009", and has cut its investment for the coming year to EUR120m.

"Very harsh economic conditions will bear a decisive negative impact on the composition and volume of consumption. Due to the situation in financial markets, access to long-term financing sources will remain restricted and upward pressure on interest rate margins will remain high, leading to higher financing costs," Mercator said.

The company said 54.8% of its investment next year would be outside Slovenia.

Mercator currently operates stores in Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.