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Ikea bets big on India, with first store set to open in July

Mumbai

FURNITURE giant Ikea is set to open its first store and restaurant in India after years of trying but arguably its most famous item is off the menu - Swedish meatballs.

Ikea, the world's biggest furniture retailer, will next month cut the ribbon on a massive 37,000 square metre outlet in the southern city of Hyderabad, complete with a 1,000-seater cafeteria.

The restaurant will be Ikea's largest and will cater to local tastes, with religious sensitivities in India dictating that beef and pork, staples of Swedish meatballs, will not be served. "There will be chicken meatballs and vegetarian balls," said Patrik Antoni, Ikea's deputy country manager for India, during an interview in Mumbai.

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The Swedish multinational, which revolutionised household furnishings with its range of affordable ready-to-assemble products, is betting big on India as it seeks new revenues away from its key Western markets.

Ikea plans to invest US$1.5 billion in Asia's third-largest economy as it seeks to lure price-sensitive Indians away from satisfying their furniture needs at local, family-run shops.

Ikea has already spent close to US$750 million procuring sites for four stores, including the Hyderabad one which will open in July on a date that is yet to be announced.

Outlets in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi will follow, Mr Antoni said, without putting a timescale on them. He added that Ikea will then look at Pune, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Surat and Kolkata.

"We are very bullish and excited about the Indian market. Normally, we would test a market by opening one store but in India, we are going all out and expanding," said Mr Antoni.

At 37,160 square metres the Hyderabad store will be comparable in size to an average Indian shopping mall. It will have 850 employees and is expected to attract several million visitors a year. AFP