Cactus S.A.

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Cactus S.A.

Rue des 3 Cantons
Windhof, L-8399
Telephone: (352) 423 39 71 21 461
Fax: (352) 423 39 92 27
Web site:

Private Company
1928 as Leesch Frères
Employees: 3,950
Sales: EUR 750 million ($820 million) (2006)
NAIC: 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (Except Convenience) Stores; 445299 All Other Specialty Food Stores

Cactus S.A. is the leading retail distribution group in tiny Luxembourg, dominating the sector with a 50 percent market share. The Windhof-based company is also the country's second largest employer. Cactus operates two hypermarkets, one in Bertrange, which serves as the anchor store for the company-owned shopping mall La Belle Etoile, and the other in Bascharage. Both hypermarkets feature 12,000 square meters of selling space and more than 100,000 products. The largest part of Cactus's operations, however, is its network of ten supermarkets, which range in size from 1,000 to 4,000 square meters and are typically located on the outskirts of Luxembourg's larger populations centers.

The company has also developed a smaller neighborhood-based superette format, called Cactus Marché. In addition to its supermarket operations, Cactus has long extended its reach into a wide variety of retail areas, including Cactus Hobbi, a hardware and doit-yourself (DIY) supply format; the consumer electronics and appliances format Multi Tecc; Cactus Mode and Junior, for clothing sales; gifts and jewelry through Cactus Cado Shop; photograph developing services through Cactus PhotoShop; music and video sales through Cactus CD Shop; a beverage format, Cactus Drink Shop; and the Cactus Blummen flower shop. These formats are operated as self-standing stores within the company's shopping mall complexes or as departments within its supermarkets.

The company also operates a chain of Bruno Café retail coffee stores, as well as several restaurant formats, including Cactus Inn, Sandwitch, Um Juck, and Pizzeria San Marco. Together these operations combine to generate sales of more than EUR 750 million ($820 million) per year. In order to boost its purchasing strength, Cactus has joined the Bloc and Markant buying cooperatives, in Belgium and Germany, respectively. The company has also formed a purchasing agreement with another German retail group, Dohle. Cactus remains controlled by the founding Leesch family, led by Max Leesch.


The Leesch family's involvement in Luxembourg's grocery sector began at the beginning of the 20th century, when Joseph Leesch opened a grocer's shop in Luxembourg's Bahnhofs quarter in 1900. By 1905, Leesch had added a wholesale operation, in partnership with Michel Donven. This business became the Leesch family's primary focus over the next decade, although the family did remain active on the retail side as well. In 1928, Leesch's three sons, Arthur, Jacques and Aloyse, took over the business, creating a new company called Leesch Frères. The brothers expanded the company into coffee roasting in 1930, creating the Leesch coffee brand. This activity later provided the company with a new retail operation, that of the Bruno chain of retail coffee stores, which debuted in 1966.

The postwar period saw the arrival of the next generation of the Leesch family to the head of the company, with Arthur Leesch's sons Paul and Alfred taking over the leadership. Paul Leesch was to play an especially important role in the growth of the family's businesses and was credited with founding the modern Cactus group in the mid-1960s.

The Leesch family had continued to develop its own network of grocer's shops beyond the capital city into other major Luxembourg population centers. In 1957, for example, the family had entered Esch, opening a retail store there under the Picnic name. Nonetheless, the Picnic shop remained a traditional small grocer's shop. By then Paul Leesch had come to recognize the revolution represented by the American style of self-service supermarkets. These had slowly been introduced into the European region following World War II, but the concept had not reached Luxembourg.

The Leesch company tested the waters, however, in 1962, when they opened the country's first self-service grocery, as a branch of the buying collective VIVO (Vereinigte Internationale Verkaufs Organisation). Yet Paul Leesch soon laid plans to develop his own full-fledged supermarket format. For this, Leesch acquired a site in Bereldange, on the outskirts of Luxembourg City. The choice of location (situated at a major intersection, along a road well-served by public transportation, in close proximity to the major urban population) was to become something of a company hallmark over the next decades. Indeed, the Leesch family's early entry into the retail supermarket sector enabled it to gain control of most of the country's prime retail locations. This factor in turn played an important role in allowing the company not only to become the dominant supermarket player in Luxembourg but also to make more difficult the entry of other competitors into the market.

The company's first supermarket opened in 1967, boasting 1,100 square meters of selling space and a new name: Cactus. Luxembourg's multilingual population helped guide the choice of names as Leesch searched for a name that would be easy to pronounce within all of the languages spoken not only in Luxembourg, but also among the country's immediate French, Belgian, and German neighbors as well. The hit song Les Cactus, by French singer Jacques Dutronc, provided Leesch with the inspiration for the name of the new supermarket, and a company was established to operate it.


Joseph Leesch opens a grocery store in Luxembourg City, then launches business as a wholesaler.
Paul Leesch, grandson of Joseph Leesch, opens Luxembourg's first full-scale self-service supermarket, in Bereldange, under the Cactus name.
Construction is completed on the first Cactus hypermarket, part of the Belle Etoile shopping mall complex.
Creation of three supermarket formats, Super Cactus (hypermarkets), Cactus (supermarkets) and Cactus Marché (city center superettes.
A second Super Cactus is opened at Bescharage.
Cactus announces plans to build new 30,000-square-meter hypermarket and shopping mall in Esch-sur-Alzette.

The first Cactus, being the first self-service supermarket in the country and the first store to feature its own parking lot, was an immediate success. Nonetheless, many in Luxembourg were skeptical about the long-term chances for the new format, believing that the Luxembourg consumer was too closely attached to the traditional market retail model. This skepticism played in the Cactus company's favor, allowing the company the leisure to develop its operations with little competition from other supermarket groups. By 1968, the company had opened its second supermarket, converting a former theater in the Brill quarter of Esch. Just 600 square meters in size, the new store nonetheless was a success and paved the way for the opening of a second, larger Cactus supermarket in Esch/Lallange in 1972. The new store was also the company's largest so far, with more than 2,300 square meters of selling space. This store was also the company's first to offer services and products beyond grocery items, and included a hairdresser, a news seller, and a fish stand. The Esch/Lallange site was later extended with other shops, including a flower store, a bank, and a restaurant.


By then, Paul Leesch had launched preparations to move to the next level in retail operations. For this, Leesch acquired a site between the cities of Bertrange and Strassen during the late 1960s. Construction on a new complex began in 1973, and by 1974 the company had completed building Luxembourg's first shopping mall. Boasting more than 12,000 square feet of retail space and a total of 20,000 square feet, the mall, called La Belle Etoile, included a 4,500-square-meter hypermarket, a 1,125-space parking lot, and a shopping gallery of 21 stores, as well as a number of conference rooms. Many of these stores were filled by the Cactus group itself, as the company expanded its range of products and services. Among the group's new operations added at the time was its first entry into the restaurant and foodservice sectors: a cafeteria-style restaurant and a snack bar. At the same time, ownership of the structure gave the company control over the choice of the mall's other tenants.

Cactus continued to expand the Belle Etoile over the next decades. The company expanded the site to include its own DIY and garden center concept, called Cactus Hobbi in 1981. The following year, the company converted the complex's conference room into retail space, adding eight more stores to the mall. By 1988, with the departure of Conforama from the site, the company completed the renovation of a new western wing, adding 17 new stores to the mall.

While the Belle Etoile complex remained the group's flagship, its expanding supermarket operations grew into its largest operational area. The company added its fourth supermarket in Mersch in 1978, which was followed in short order by the opening of new Cactus supermarkets in Bettembourg and Diekirch in 1980, in Pétange in 1982, in Remich in 1983, and in Redange, Grevenmacher, and Luxembourg City's Limpertsberg in 1984. At the same time, the company extended its restaurant operations, creating a dedicated subsidiary, Caresta (later renamed Caterman). In 1979, the company gave Caresta its own headquarters in Capellan. The new site permitted the company to enter food production, with the launch of the La Belle Etoile brand of consumer food products.


By the mid-1980s, Cactus oversaw ten supermarkets and more than 1,800 employees, and the company continued seeking new avenues for growth. In 1989, the company added a new supermarket in Howald. Like the Belle Etoile, the new site featured its own retail galleryyet Cactus set about filling most of the stores with its own operations. As such the company added a toy store format, called Yuppiland (named after Yuppi, the company mascot, created in 1987); a jewelry and gifts format, Cactus Cado Shop; and a children's clothing shop called Junior. The Howald store also permitted the company to extend its experience in restaurant operations to the creation of a new restaurant, Cactus Inn, featuring a "free flow" buffet restaurant format. The success of the first Cactus Inn led the company to roll out the format to other supermarkets in its network. By 1990, the company's Caresta subsidiary was forced to move to still larger quarters, adding its own facility to the newly constructed Cactus headquarters in Windhof-Koerich completed in 1989.

Through the 1990s, Cactus continued to add to its range of restaurant formats. The company debuted a new coffee shop format, Bruno Café, in 1996. In that year also, the company added an Italian food concept, Pizzeria San Marco, at the Belle Etoile complex. The shopping mall became the site for the company's next expansion of its foodservice offering. In 1997, the company renovated the shopping mall's Cactus Inn as an American-style food court, featuring a variety of restaurant brands, including De Schnékert, Pasteria, An derMull, Um Scheff, and other noted Luxembourg restaurant brands, as well as Cactus's own restaurant formats.

By the mid-1990s, Cactus had achieved a dominant position in the Luxembourg supermarket sector, claiming more than 50 percent of the market. Until then, the company shared the market with a sole competitor, the Belgian group Match, which held about 15 percent of the market. The mid-1990s threatened a new era of competition, however, as a number of Europe's largest supermarket groups began laying plans to enter Luxembourg. The first of these was France's Auchan, which added a single hypermarket in 1996 and quickly gained a 15 percent market share. The period also saw the arrival of the first hard discount stores, led by German hard discount pioneer Aldi.

As the only truly Luxembourg-based company, Cactus nonetheless retained its home advantage. The company continued to expand its operations, adding several new Hobbi stores in the first half of the 1990s. Cactus also moved its Esch store to a new and far larger site in 1995. At the same time, the company launched construction of a new eastern wing for the Belle Etoile complex, modernizing the entire facility and adding some 20 new retail stores.

By then, concerns over the saturation of Luxembourg's retail sector led to the enactment of legislation that severely restricted new building permits. The move effectively blocked new foreign competitors from entering the Luxembourg market, while Cactus (which had gained building permits for several sites) was able to continue building up its network of stores, including the addition of new supermarkets in Kayl in 1996, in Ingeldorf in 1998, and in Echternach in 2003.

In 1996, Cactus restructured its supermarkets into three distinct formatsthe Super Cactus hypermarket format, the Cactus supermarket, and a new superette format, Cactus Marché. The first of the new store formats opened soon after; a new Cactus Marché was added in Ettelbrück in 2000. Cactus in the meantime had launched construction of its second Super Cactus hypermarket, in Bascharage, completed in 2001.

In the meantime, the new Cactus Marché format provided a local, neighborhood-based alternative to the company's largely out-of-town supermarket locations. At the same time, the development of the Cactus Marché format also permitted the company to stake its claim to Luxembourg's smaller markets, heading off potential rivals. In 2004, the company added a Cactus Marché in Wasserbillig. By 2007, the format included sites in Bettembourg, Esch/Brill, and Luxembourg-Limpertsberg as well.

Paul Leesch turned over direction of Cactus to his son, Max Leesch, and longtime company employee Laurent Schonkert in 2001. The new team continued building the company's position into the middle of the decade, adding a new music and video store format, Cactus CD Shop, which opened its first store in Echternach in 2004. The following year, the company opened an expanded Cactus store in the Esch/Brill area.

Cactus celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007 with sales of more than EUR 750 million and a position as Luxembourg's retail giant. The company was also the country's second largest employer, with nearly 4,000 people on its payroll. Cactus was far from resting on its laurels. In 2007, the company prepared to launch construction of a new 30,000-square-meter hypermarket and shopping mall complex, in Esch-sur-Alzette. Family-owned Cactus clearly intended to remain Luxembourg's retail leader for the new century.

M. L. Cohen


Boulevard Café; Bruno Café; C Select Shop; Cactus Blummen; Cactus Cado Shop; Cactus CD Shop; Cactus Drink Shop; Cactus Hobbi; Cactus Inn; Cactus Marche; Cactus Mode; Cactus PhotoShop; Caterman SA; Multi Tecc; Pizzeria San Marco; Sandwitch; Supermarche Cactus; Um Juck.


Carrefour S.A; ITM Entreprises S.A.; METRO AG; Royal Ahold N.V.; Groupe Auchan S.A; Metro Holding AG; Rallye S.A.; Lidl Stiftung and Company KG; Delhaize Group S.A./NV; Aldi Einkauf GmbH and Company OHG.


Hansen, Josée, "Shop Until You Drop," D'Land, October 19, 2001.

"Luxembourg: Retail," Economist Intelligence Unit, March 24, 2004.

Moser, Frederique, "L'enseigne des gens qui ont Grandi avec elle," PaperJam, February 23, 2007.

"Nous restons une entreprise familiale," Le Quotidien, 2006.

Petit, Michel, and David Broman, "La guerre des géants," Le Jeudi, October 2003.