Supermarkets are a fiercely competitive business in Germany – but Alain Caparros has a lot of experience.
Mr. Caparros, 58, became the chief executive of the Rewe Group in 2006 after spending many years with retail and grocery firms such as Yves Rocher and discounter Aldi. The company runs Rewe, one of Germany’s largest supermarket chains, which has a near 15 percent share of the German market.
Mr. Caparros has been a vocal critic of the controversial attempt by market leader Edeka to take over the smaller and struggling Kaiser’s Tengelmann grocery chain. Germany’s competition authorities have ruled against the bid, fearing it will create a monopoly in certain pockets of the country, but Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economy minister, could still overturn the ruling and give the go-ahead. Mr. Caparros is hoping Mr. Gabriel stays out of it, as most analysts expect.
Perhaps that’s because Mr. Caparros has his own designs on acquiring Tengelmann. In an interview, he weighs in on the possible merger, his own plans for expanding Rewe, and why he considers the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods a role model.
Mr. Caparros, are you happy that FC Cologne, the soccer team that Rewe sponsors, escaped dropping out of the top German league (Bundesliga) this season?
I am the only Rewe employee on the board who is not interested in football. That’s why I view the Bundesliga mainly as a cost factor. But we will stay with them. The whole club has shown a good performance and the leadership works very well.
You are not one to hold your tongue. You called Edeka’s plans to take over Kaiser’s Tengelmann a “big mess” and warned that ministry staff would have a sit-in if economics minister Sigmar Gabriel quashed the cartel office’s decision to halt the takeover. Could you not do this more quietly?
After the federal cartel office stopped the takeover from happening, Tengelmann and Edeka wanted to enforce their fusion plans with false statements from Mr. Gabriel. That annoys me.
The companies argue that, without a takeover, thousands of jobs at Kaisers would be lost.
This perception is wrong and the numbers are usually falsified. There is no clear statement on how many employees the new owners would want to get rid of. Edeka will not save Kaiser’s Tengelmann’s 16,000 jobs.
You want to take over Kaiser’s Tengelmann too. Would you give job guarantee to its employees?
We would keep all of Tengelmann’s employees.
Rewe, like Edeka, would probably fail to convince the cartel office.
The cartel office only analyzed the market regarding Edeka. We think that we would have a much better chance. But of course, an independent buyer would be the best solution in the eyes of the cartel office.
Who might that be?
The market has been talking about the Swiss supermarket chain Migros, who have expanded their business. The northwest German firm Bünting, which operates the Familia supermarkets, would also be a possibility. If Tengelmann’s owner Karl-Erivan Haub would seriously look for alternatives, he would find them.