French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks during a news conference on outskirts of Bengaluru
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of G20 finance ministers' meeting on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, February 24, 2023. Reuters

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has reached a deal with the country's main supermarket chains to help shoppers cope with food price inflation, he said on Monday.

Food retailers have agreed to offer shoppers "the lowest possible prices" for a three-month period on a selection of items left to them to decide, Le Maire told a news conference after he met retail bosses.

The discounts are expected to cost retailers "hundreds of millions of euros", Le Maire said.

From June, retailers and government officials will reassess the situation and may ask large consumer goods suppliers to re-negotiate prices with retailers, he added.

French annual inflation rose unexpectedly to 7.2% in February from 7.0% in January, partly as a result of higher food prices, preliminary figures from the INSEE statistics body found.

INSEE has forecast that food price inflation would remain at 13% for the first half of the year.

The basket of anti-inflation groceries is the government's latest effort to show political support to lower-income citizens.

Initially, the government sought to establish a harmonised basket of everyday items, but supermarkets held out to be able to determine which groceries would be included.

On Sunday, Carrefour, Europe's largest food retailer, pre-empted the government announcement by saying it would offer its own selection of 200 low-cost items and that there was no need for the government to impose a unified basket.

Its CEO Alexandre Bompard told Le Journal du Dimanche that 200 items will be offered at less than 2 euros, from March 15, and the price would be frozen until June 15.

Smaller rival Casino on Monday also said it would offer its a selection of 500 low-cost items at less than one euro from March 15 with prices frozen for three months.

Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the head of unlisted hypermarket giant E.Leclerc, however, told CNEws on Monday he saw no need to attend Monday's meeting with Le Maire and was not waiting for political talks to cut prices.

"My goal is to offer the lowest prices on all products," he said.

Carrefour shares were down 1.3% at 17.86 euros as of 1039 GMT while Casino shares were off 0.7% at 9.64 euros.