French retail giant Casino has signed a franchise deal with Al Meera Consumer Goods Co to open five Geant hypermarkets in Qatar and Oman over the next three years. Al Meera will open and operate three hypermarkets in Qatar and at least two in Oman under the Geant and Geant Easy brands, said Retail Arabia, the master franchise-holder for Geant in the GCC. “The first store in Oman will open in the next 12 – 18 months,” said Arif Shaikh, Middle East manager for Geant at Retail Arabia. “The initial focus is on bigger stores, and then it will be up to Al Meera how they want to expand [after that].” Al Meera already operates 23 supermarkets under its own banner in Qatar. “We partnered with Al Meera because they are already one of the biggest players in Qatar – they know the market, they know the customers. This will give us a head start,” said Shaikh. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Retail Arabia operates 11 Geant hypermarkets and Geant Easy supermarkets in the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, and a further 15 outlets under the ‘Gulfmart’ umbrella. The company said in September it planned to open 35 new stores across the six GCC states within the next three years under an aggressive expansion drive. In addition to five new hypermarkets and 30 smaller stores across its three largest markets, the firm said would debut the brand in Qatar and Oman within the next two years. “We kept a low profile during the boom years because the cost of real estate was not real, but since the financial crisis we have embarked on an aggressive expansion plan,” Shaikh told Arabian Business at the time. The brand had seen steady sales growth across the Gulf despite the onset of the global financial crash, which would help to fund its expansion, he said. “The best thing about the GCC is that people have a high disposable income, there is a growing population and the region hasn’t been as affected by the recession as other places. It’s booming.” The company is also considering a move into smaller neighbourhood stores, he said. Casino, which competes with Carrefour and privately held French retail chains Leclerc, Intermarche and Auchan, has been expanding in fast-growing emerging markets to offset slower growth in mature markets. It has 2,200 stores outside France, mostly in Brazil and Colombia, Thailand and Vietnam, which made 40 percent of consolidated sales of €29bn.