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From The Sunday Times September 6, 2009
Tesco enjoys a Korea break with Homeplus
The Homeplus joint venture has won over shoppers in Seoul
On the fifth floor of the 24-hour Tesco, golfers are driving practice balls high into the roof. Yards away, diners are sipping wine and scoffing steak and risotto in a plush Italian restaurant overlooking the neon skyline. There s a health and beauty shop, an art gallery and in the basement food department, racks of kimchi, the pickled cabbage that is a staple for Koreans, stand close to the aquarium where the fish await their fate, staring at ready meals of microwave Melanian snail soup and packs of purple squid. On a wet Wednesday night in the Jamsil neighbourhood of southeast Seoul, Homeplus, the biggest and most successful overseas outpost of Britain s largest supermarket chain, is a hive of activity. Set up in 1999 as a partnership between Tesco and Samsung, the biggest chaebol (Korean for business family ) and a conglomerate that ranges from electronics to financial services to shipbuilding, Homeplus generates sales of more than £3 billion not to mention some of the British retail giant s fattest profit margins. It includes 111 hypermarkets and 131 Homeplus Express convenience stores totalling some 10m sq ft. By next year Tesco hopes to become the biggest supermarket chain in this east Asian nation of 48m people, overtaking E-Mart, the home-grown rival, to gain more than a third of the market. My ambition is to be the No 1 supermarket for quality in the world and No 1 in size in Korea, said Seung-Han Lee, the chief executive and chairman of Homeplus and a Samsung veteran. As the undisputed market leader in Britain with more than a third of the grocery market and sales of £38 billion a year, Tesco is increasingly looking to its overseas operations in eastern Europe and Asia although in Thailand it faced a bombing campaign a few years ago and the outrage of small...