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Tehran hypermarket opens, without Carrefour name
Published in Daily News Egypt on 25 - 09 - 2009

PARIS: Tehran s shoppers are packing the wide, well-lit aisles of the Iranian capital s first western-style hypermarket, more than two years after France s Carrefour SA unveiled plans for a mammoth retail emporium here.
But the store, whose logo, broad selection and two-story parking garage would be familiar to Carrefour shoppers anywhere, opened last month under a different name - Hyperstar - and the French company says it is no longer involved.
The change, and Carrefour s reluctance to talk about it, highlights the difficulties that western companies face as they seek to tap into demand by Iran s booming middle class amid deteriorating relations between the West and the Islamic regime.
Hyperstar is a 9,000-square-meter (97,000-square-foot) store selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to clothes and school supplies. It was opened last month by Majid Al Futtaim Group, a Dubai-based retail giant that is Carrefour s longtime partner in the region. Reports during the store s construction quoted a Tehran city official saying that the store would open under the Carrefour brand.
At some point after that, Carrefour s name came off the project. The Paris-based company - the world s second-largest retailer after Wal-Mart Stores Inc., declined to answer questions about the store. MAF Group also declined multiple requests for an interview.
A Carrefour spokesman would say only that the company is not and will not be involved in this project. However the Hyperstar logo clearly mimics Carrefour s own, with an H inside a diamond replacing the Carrefour C. The lettering on the store s full name is also nearly identical, but with Islamic green replacing Carrefour s traditional blue.
The store s managing director, Mark Courboin, was quoted last month by Iran s official news agency IRNA as saying: Due to some political problems between Iran and France, Carrefour has not permitted us to use its name here.
Iranians have flocked to the new store, with up to 60,000 shoppers crowding in on one day soon after the store s opening, Courboin told IRNA.
The Hyperstar is located in western Tehran near the Azadi stadium. It dwarfs the competition, such as the Shahrvand and Refah supermarket chains, that were until now Tehran shoppers only option other than tiny corner shops and traditional outdoor markets. The entire project cost an estimated $60 million, and MAF already has plans to open 11 more Hyperstar stores around Iran, according to Courboin.
One female shopper, Mojdeh Sheikhi, liked being able to freely pick out her produce. Here I can hand pick fruits and vegetables. It is also cheaper than other shops, said Sheikhi, who had bought a 5-kilogram sack of potatoes for the equivalent of $2, half the price in ordinary shops.
A six-member family that had come from Hamedan, a city about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from Tehran, packed a shopping cart with items ranging from school notebooks and pens to shoes and shirts.
The name change hasn t fooled shoppers posting on an Internet forum dedicated to the subject.
For us, it s obviously a Carrefour. But to an illiterate mullah, it s a Hyperstar brought over to Iran from our pious Muslim Arab brothers across the Arabian Gulf, reads one post.
Franco-Iranian relations have suffered since President Nicolas Sarkozy criticized Iranian leaders for their handling of contested elections this summer. Sarkozy also supports new sanctions and stronger inspection powers for the International Atomic Energy Agency if Iran does not suspend activities that leading Western powers suspect are aimed at developing nuclear weapons. This week, Sarkozy accused his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of blackmail over a case involving a French student accused of espionage in Iran.
Restrictions on foreign media in Tehran imposed by the government after the elections made it impossible for an Associated Press photographer to take pictures of the new store.
While other French companies including PSA Peugeot Citroen and Total SA maintain large presences in Iran, some Western brands have been targeted. Last December a branch of Italian clothing retailer Benetton in northern Tehran was set fire, apparently as part of a protest. The branch showed minor damage, with some burned clothes and scorch marks.
MAF Group, Carrefour s partner in the region, is a privately held family company based in Dubai. It operates Carrefour stores throughout the Middle East through a joint venture with the French retailer.
Carrefour owns 25 percent of the venture, known as Majid Al Futtaim Hypermarkets LLC, while the Emirati company owns the rest. This means that indirectly Carrefour could benefit from profits made at the Tehran s Hyperstar, though the Tehran shop is only a small part of the MAF Group s overall activities.
Since setting up the venture in 1995, the companies have expanded Carrefour s reach across much of the Arab world. Their portfolio includes outlets in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On its Web site, Majid Al Futtaim lists Iran, Pakistan and Syria among the markets it plans to enter in the near future.
Majid al-Futtaim, the billionaire president of the eponymous company, hails from one of the Arab Gulf s most prominent merchant families. His company is best known for developing shopping malls, including one in Dubai that boasts an indoor ski slope.


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