Dutch retailer Royal Ahold NV has agreed to purchase Belgian retailer Delhaize Group, in a deal creating a company with more than 6,500 stores in the U.S. and Europe.

The $10.4 billion deal, pending regulatory and shareholder approval, is expected to close in mid-2016. The new company, Ahold Delhaize, would unite Delhaize banners Food Lion and Hannaford Bros. with Giant Food Stores, Stop &amp Shop Supermarkets and other Ahold banners.

Retail analysts saw the acquisition as a cost savings move.

"This isn"t about building new stores, inventing a new way to sell groceries or improving sales it"s more about survival," said David Livingston, a Pewaukee, Wis.-based supermarket research consultant. "Both companies have been operating sterile, plain vanilla stores for decades and that is not a growth area in the industry. They"re going to continue to see declines. This will help with sales per square foot, eliminate a lot of stores they don"t want and improve their buying power and efficiencies."

Ahold and Delhaize operate 2,063 stores in the U.S., according to the companies. 

"Shoppers won"t notice a whole lot that"s different, at least short term," said James Tenser, principal at VSN Strategies, Tucson, Ariz. "I haven"t heard why this is a better experience for their customers. It seems like a financially motivated deal. There"s nothing wrong with that necessarily, it"s how the world works and there"s a long history of putting grocery chains together."

Livingston estimates 20% of the U.S. stores might be sold or closed, either by choice or by Federal Trade Commission mandate.

"Like any acquisition, most likely they will try to sell stores to someone who"s not going to be a very good operator," he said. "The last thing you want is to sell stores to Kroger, Publix or anyone formidable. You want somebody ineffectual, so you don"t get blowback from competition."

"That"s got to be part of the return story they can tell investors," Tenser said of the prospect of sales and closures. "There are going to be situations where a Food Lion and a Giant, for example, are not far apart and they"ll have to look closely."

"They"ll claim they can gain some other benefits on the buying side," he said. "Those may be smaller than they"d like us to believe. I don"t see how much more clout you get going from a multibillion dollar entity to a larger multibillion dollar entity. Maybe they get a little pricing advantage with their biggest vendors."

In fresh produce, the merger could bring an opportunity to the new company in local sourcing, according to Tenser. "A company that has a denser footprint in a given area may want to look pretty hard at regional producers and kind of corner the market for certain items," he said.

Delhaize Group chairman Mats Jannson will be Ahold Delhaize chairman and Royal Ahold chairman Jan Hommen and Delhaize Group director are slated to be vice chairmen, according to the companies.

Jannson and Hommen, in a joint statement, said the merger combines two "highly complementary businesses" in a transaction that "delivers a compelling value proposition" for shareholders.

Upon completion, Delhaize shareholders receive 4.75 Ahold shares for each Delhaize share, and Ahold shareholders will own 61% of the combined companies" equity, according to a news release.

"Supported by our talented and committed associates, Ahold Delhaize aims to increase relevance in its local communities by improving the value proposition for its customers through assortment innovation and merchandising, a better shopping experience both in stores and online, investments in value, and new store growth," Frans Muller, Delhaize CEO, said in the release. "We look forward to working closely with the Ahold team to implement a smooth integration process and realize the targeted synergies."

Delhaize operates supermarkets on the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic, including Food Lion LLC in Salisbury, N.C., and Hannaford Bros. Co., in Scarborough, Maine.

Ahold USA Inc., Carlisle, Pa., runs banners in the Northeast, including the Carlisle-based Giant Food Stores Inc., which operates supermarkets under the Giant and Martin"s Food Markets banners in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Ahold runs Landover, Md.-based Giant Food LLC (also known as Giant-Landover) Stop &amp Shop Supermarkets, Quincy, Mass. and Stop &amp Shop/New York Metro divisions.

 
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