It might finally be time to put one of the great myths of global retailing to bed. Contrary to popular belief, the BRIC markets are actually a bit rubbish. OK, I may be oversimplifying things slightly, but this observation is certainly the case when it comes to grocery retailing.

It might finally be time to put one of the great myths of global retailing to bed. Contrary to popular belief, the BRIC markets are actually a bit rubbish. OK, I may be oversimplifying things slightly, but this observation is certainly the case when it comes to grocery retailing.

Russia has been problematic for many global players – Carrefour completed both market entry and market exit in what must be a world record of four months. Tesco has never ventured there and Walmart has been frightened off by, ahem, some of the cultural nuances of doing business there. India, meanwhile, has been a total non-starter for the global grocers, with activities so far limited to disappointingly modest cash and carry operations.

Brazil might be the only exception. Casino and Carrefour are thoroughly enjoying themselves in what continues to be a benign market, although Walmart is not exactly motoring as it struggles to integrate a couple of acquired businesses and complete its transition to EDLP. Which leaves us with China - by no means a happy hunting ground for global players, both in food and non-food retail.

The star of the show has been Auchan, which is seeing all sorts of growth through its local partnership there. Carrefour has found the going tough, Walmart is growing at a glacial pace after a botched acquisition and Tesco has certainly found that the market is not exactly a walk in the park.

Local businesses, with former or ongoing state backing, have found progress much easier. Relationships with both central and local government are a vital component of success in the market, as is the ability to use scale and local expertise to collaborate with indigenous and global suppliers. Western retailers have faced massive learning curves in terms of tweaking their offer and assimilating local shopper habits, while critical mass, economies of scale and profitability have proven to be stubbornly elusive for many market entrants.

While words like ‘retreat’ and ‘exit’ are being bandied around Tesco’s new joint venture with CRE in China, I believe that this move will be regarded in the future as something of a masterstroke. Tesco transitions from full control of a relative minnow to a 20% stake in a highly successful market leader in the world’s largest consumer market.

The combined entity’s skill set in terms of local clout and expertise and global best practice will be formidable, a union that should lay the foundations for not only dominance, but sophisticated multichannel leadership in one of the world’s most important grocery retail market.

Bryan Roberts is director of retail insights at Kantar Retail