Ek-Chai Distribution, the Thai unit of UK retailer Tesco, has said that it plans to open a total of six hypermarkets and three smaller stores in 2003.

The retailer, which said it expects Thailand’s modern retail market to continue to grow, has already opened two of its six planned hypermarkets and one “value store”, bringing the number Tesco Lotus stores to 54, of which 43 are hypermarkets.

“The Thai market is vibrant and will remain so (in the foreseeable future),” Ek-Chai Distribution chief executive Michael Raycraft was quoted by Dow Jones International News as saying.

Raycraft said that since entering the Thai retail sector in 1998, Tesco has invested around 45bn baht (US$1.06bn) in its operations there.