French retailer Carrefour plans to open eight to 10 new outlets in Thailand next year, its fastest pace of expansion in the 11 years the hypermarket chain has been in the Thai market, reports the Bangkok post.

The expansion plan is part of a strategy by Carrefour to catch on its European rivals Tesco, the operator of Tesco Lotus, and Casino, the operator of Big C.

Carrefour currently operates 23 outlets in Thailand while Big C has 45 and Tesco Lotus has 53 outlets.

However, Frederic Levy Perrault, regional director of CenCar Ltd, the operator of Carrefour hypermarkets in Thailand, said the expansion plan would hinge on the government’s new zoning regulations for the retail sector.

Growth could be slower than planned if the zoning rules, expected to be announced next year, impose more stringent requirements on large retailers opening outlets in urban areas.

“I hope everything will be settled very soon in a win-win situation,” Perrault said. “We have the land in hand and we are ready to expand at a faster pace.”

He declined to say what the company’s investment budget for 2006 would be, but said that one store typically involved an investment of THB700m (US$16.9m) to THB1bn, depending on size.

Planned new stores would be constructed under the hypermarket concept, either as conventional stores of over 7,000 square metres in retail space, or compact stores of around 5,000 square metres.

One of the new stores planned will be located at the Jungceylon shopping complex in Phuket. The company had planned to open it earlier this year but delayed the plans after the 26 December tsunami.

Carrefour opened its 23rd outlet yesterday (Thursday) on Itsaraphap Road. The store is based on the company’s new compact format, a model previously used in South Korea and China.

The three storey-building was constructed with an investment of THB500m, and is located on an eight-rai plot with parking for 500 cars and space for 22,000 products.

Carrefour also plans to invest THB500m to THB700m next year renovating several existing branches, including its Rama IV branch.

Changes will include product upgrades to upscale brands such as Australia’s Red Earth, US toy chain Toys “R” Us and Hong Kong’s Bossini. The Rama IV renovation is expected to be completed in early 2006.