Carrefour, the largest retailer in Europe, is in talks to acquire stores from Shanghai Balian Group at least partially in an attempt to slow rival Wal-Mart's expansion up north, sources said. 'It's more of a defensive move for Carrefour because they already have stores in Shanghai through a joint venture with Lianhua,' said a person familiar with the company. Wal-Mart was more aggressively looking for acquisitions because they started out in Guangdong and only later began moving north, the source added. Lianhua Supermarket Holdings is the mainland's largest grocery store chain and 30 per cent owned by Shanghai Balian. Balian also owns Shanghai Hualian Supermarket. Balian could not be reached for comment, while Wal-Mart and Carrefour declined to comment. Wal-Mart is keen to gain greater exposure to the rich and growing marketplace of Shanghai and the surrounding Jiangsu province. Rival Carrefour has 11 stores in Shanghai out of 101 stores in the mainland, while Wal-Mart has three stores in Shanghai out of 83 stores in the country, according to the two retail giants' websites. Analysts consider Carrefour to be out in front of Wal-Mart beyond just the number of outlets. 'Carrefour has picked the right partners for different regions in China, gaining better locations in cities and better relationships with government officials and landlords compared to Wal-Mart,' said one mainland retail analyst. Sources said only a fraction of the 7,000 or so outlets Balian operates, including hypermarkets and supermarkets, would be of real interest to foreign players. 'What they want to do is end up cherry-picking a portfolio of assets because Balian is quite diverse,' said one source. 'They want the biggest and the best.' That is a strategy suitors pursued with Trust-Mart, a Taiwan-based mainland supermarket chain. Wal-Mart emerged the winner and, after negotiations dragged on for over a year, acquired 30 of the 101 stores the company owned. It has the option to acquire more stores. The Telegraph, a London-based newspaper, reported in July that Wal-Mart was in talks with Beijing Hualian Group. Analysts valued the company at over US$1 billion, the report said. 'There are ongoing discussions,' a source said. Beijing Hualian Group owns domestically listed Beijing Hualian Hypermarket and Beijing Hualian Department Store. The group has about 50 stores in the capital and other cities, including Nanjing, Wuhan and Dalian.