Jerónimo Martins: A Portuguese explorer

THE Pingo Doce supermarket in Rua Tomás Ribeiro is hard to spot, tucked among white-and-blue tiled houses and crumbling stucco facades. But inside trade is brisk as shoppers move from mounds of produce to man-sized slabs of bacalhau (dried cod).Portugal is emerging from recession and food sales inched up by less than 1% in 2013, according to early figures from the local retail association. At Pingo Doce stores they rose 3.9%, thanks mainly to extensive price-cutting. Jerónimo Martins, which owns half of the supermarket chain, all of a cash-and-carry group and other bits and pieces, is Portugal’s biggest food-distribution group. It is also Poland’s.The family-controlled firm, founded in 1792, realised in the 1990s that little Portugal was a good place to be from but not a great place to rely on. It made two sorties. One, to Brazil, a former Portuguese colony, flopped: the country was too big, the company too small, and despite speaking the right language, Brazilians proved too different. The other—to Poland, just opening to foreign investment—was a master stroke, or maybe a stroke of luck.In 1995 the company picked up a cash-and-carry chain there, and got to know the market. It decided that frill-free discounting was the way to go. In 1997 it bought Biedronka, with 243 discount stores, adding outlets in small towns at first and seeking the kind of…

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