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British retail giant Tesco PLC opened its first supermarket in Japan in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, on Wednesday, looking to challenge the notion that foreign retailers cannot win the hearts of consumers in the world’s second-largest retail market.

The Tesco Express in Nerima is being run by C Two-Network Co., a Japanese company Tesco acquired in 2003. C Two-Network owns the Tsurukame supermarket chain, which already boasts 104 outlets across Japan.

Tesco has spread throughout Europe and has already made forays into other Asian economies, including South Korea, Thailand and China. The retailer plans to enter the U.S. retail market, the world’s largest, later this year.

The key to succeeding in Japan, however, will be fresh food variety, said John Christie, chief executive officer of C Two-Network.

“We understand how important fresh food is to Japanese customers,” Christie told reporters after the opening ceremony.

The British retailer is set to open 24 more Tesco Expresses and 10 under the Tsurukame banner by February. That will give Tesco a total of 139 supermarkets in Japan, a fiercely competitive business environment with notoriously demanding consumers who have doomed more than one foreign retail giant.

Location is another big part of Tesco’s plan, said C Two-Network spokeswoman Shizuko Ota.

“The new stores will be opened mainly in residential areas in metropolitan Tokyo where population density is high,” Ota said. “Our new outlets combine the concepts of supermarket and convenience. It means Tesco Express is one-stop shopping.”

The outlet in Nerima Ward, a residential area that is the second-most populated of Tokyo’s 23 wards, offers about 2,500 items, including fresh and processed food, at supermarket prices. Many dishes will be cooked on site to ensure maximum quality.

C Two-Network did not reveal its sales target for the combined Japanese operations, but if business in Japan goes as well as it has elsewhere, Tesco should have little reason to worry.

Tesco reported a record-high profit of £2.55 billion for the business year that ended in February.

But the British retailer is entering in the wake of the exit of No. 2 global retailer Carrefour of France, which withdrew from Japan two years ago. Carrefour’s stores now belong to Aeon Co., one of Japan’s top retailers.

And the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has been waiting patiently for Japanese subsidiary Seiyu Ltd. to end a string of five consecutive annual net losses under the juggernaut’s seemingly impervious business formula.

Can Tesco succeed where its peers have failed? The bloated Japanese retail industry is in the midst of a wrenching consolidation in an economy that has shown few solid signs of a revival in spending.

Even convenience stores are struggling. Seven-Eleven Japan Co., the sector’s perennial leader, recently reported its first drop in operating profit since going public in 1979.

Tesco is nonetheless optimistic its strategy will produce results.

The company said, for instance, that it will avoid competing directly with large, established players by turning Tesco Expresses into “neighborhood grocery stores” stocked with only the basic daily essentials.

Regarding the emphasis on fresh foods, Christie said only time will tell whether Tesco Express passes the taste test.

“If they come back, we know we’ve got it right,” he said with a smile. “If they don’t come back, we know we need to work harder.”

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