VILNIUS - VP Market, the largest retail grocer in the Baltics, last week accused a competitor in Lithuanian of unfair competition and said that it might purchase an Estonian retail chain in the near future.
VP Market lodged a complaint with the Competition Council against the Senukai hardware store's owner, accusing the latter of pressuring suppliers not to sell their products to Ermitazas, the new building and household goods store currently being established by VP Market.
Ignas Staskevicius, VP Market's chairman, said that some suppliers have refused to cooperate with Ermitazas. "We have noticed that the other side is blocking suppliers," he told the Lietuvos Rytas daily.
Staskevicius said that he had information that Senukai, which is owned by Finland's Kesko, a major rival on both the grocery and building materials market, sent a letter to at least 50 suppliers asking them not to supply goods to the rival Senukai chain. In the letter, Senukai allegedly asked suppliers "to think twice" before signing contracts with other retail chains and warned that it might have to revise cooperation agreements with those supplying their goods to competitors.
Meanwhile, Pavel Filippov, VP Market's managing director in Estonia, said that a purchase of Selver or another local chain by VP Market could not be ruled out.
"We are open to all offers, but no contracts have been signed as of today," Filippov told the daily Parnu Postimees.
The Selver chain, present in many major Estonian towns, belongs to AS Tallinna Kaubamaja (Tallinn Department Store). Andres Jarving, chairman of the supervisory board, said that VP Market had not approached them concerning a possible purchase of Selver.
Filippov also said that VP Market could open a Maxima hypermarket in Parnu next year, possibly in the Port Artur Maxi shopping and leisure center now in the planning stage. VP Market is set to open a Maxima in the Oismae borough of Tallinn next year.
VP Market is continuing its aggressive expansion policy throughout the Baltics and beyond, recently claiming that it would soon become one of Latvia's top three businesses.
In an interview with the Latvian daily Neatkariga earlier this month, Staskevicius said that it was "a realistic goal" to become one of Latvia's top three taxpayers.
"This year we are likely to move up a rung or two," he said, adding that in 2003 VP Market, which is owned by a group of individuals, was the sixth largest company in Latvia by turnover.
In Lithuania, the company was the second largest by turnover after the Mazeikiu Nafta oil refinery. "We have little chance to beat the oil refinery," Staskevicius admitted.
Regarding Estonia, VP Market has big plans. "We already work in six Estonian cities and will have a total of 13 stores by the end of the year," he said. "It is not realistic for us to become Estonian retail market leaders next year, but we will definitely be among the top three and will continue working to become the No. 1 also in Estonia sooner or later."
VP Market's turnover in Latvia last year was 127.1 million lats (185.3 million euros). The second largest retailer, Scandinavian-owned Rimi Latvija, had sales of over 100 million lats. VP Market's sales throughout the three states reached 3.6 billion litas, or over 1 billion euros, last year. Sales this year are expected to reach 4 billion litas.
The VP Market retail chain, which consists of the Maxima and T-Market brand names, boasts about 280 stores in all three Baltic states, including 80 in Latvia.
The Estonian language watchdog last week issued reprimands to 20 salesclerks of a T-Market store in Tallinn. The language inspectorate ordered the sales personnel to acquire the Estonian skills necessary to carry out their work, said Leho Klaser, supervision manager at the inspectorate. VP Market, which operates under the name T-Market in Estonia, is the largest retail chain in the Baltic states. The firm has seven supermarkets in Estonia.