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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 12:47 GMT
Tesco's empire reaches Beijing
By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

The Beijing Tesco's fish counter
A British brand was unveiled on a high street a long way from home
While Ford struggles, the relentless expansion of Tesco's empire continues.

On Friday, it reached Beijing.

The company already owns nearly 50 stores in China, but now it has opened its first supermarket there under its own name.

Just before 0800 local time (0000 GMT), dozens of Tesco staff wearing orange and grey uniforms lined up along a row of empty tills.

Then, at 0800, the doors opened and within an hour, the store was full of shoppers.

Local goods

Most of the products on sale are Chinese, including soy sauce, sheep's feet and even live turtles. There is one rather forlorn aisle selling food from the United Kingdom, including sage-and-onion stuffing and mint jelly.

A tin of baked beans and a bottle of Tesco's brown sauce seemed to perplex the early customers.

Woman looking for soy sauce in the Beijing Tesco's
Though the Beijing Tesco's sells some British goods, its stock is primarily Chinese

"I'm not sure that these are the baked beans, and it might be a Chinese-style yellow bean sauce," one person said at the opening.

"This brown sauce, I think it's probably a fish-egg sauce or maybe a banana sauce."

Further into the store, the products get a lot more Chinese.

At the front of the meat counter, there is little that Brits would recognise. One shopper pointed out a packet of spicy sheep's feet, which sells for about 20 pence (40 cents).

Local competition

Some shoppers waited in queues of 20 to 30 people just to buy eggs.

They said they were doing so because the eggs were a lot cheaper than something they could find outside.

Tesco wanted to prove to its new customers on its first morning that it was well worth shopping there - and well worth giving up the local markets that Chinese people shopped at before.

"I don't like to shop at an outdoor market, because I think there are many fake things there. I just don't trust them," said one shopper.

Multinational rivals

But Tesco's main competition here in Beijing is not the local markets.

It's actually rival multinational firms: Wal-Mart, the American retailer, and France's Carrefour, both of which have been in China for years and are well ahead of Tesco.

The opening of this store is an important moment for the company. Business experts say the long-term future of Tesco's depends on the success of its many overseas ventures, particularly on stores like this one.

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