The Barclays trio guided by James Anstead reclaims first place on this roster, having fallen to runner-up in 2014 and climbed to third place last year. From their offices in London and Paris, the researchers follow 15 regional food retailers, earning high marks from one client for their “very strong industry knowledge, excellent work on strategic issues and industry trends, very good monthly publications and good call on [Royal] Ahold.” Since July 2012, Anstead and his associates have been bullish on Dutch retailer Ahold, owner of the Giant and Stop & Shop grocery chains in the U.S., among others. They upped the pitch in June, when the supermarket operator announced a plan to acquire Belgian rival Delhaize Group, which the squad has been recommending investors buy since January 2014. The retailers’ management teams have advised that they expect the deal to be completed in the first half of this year and to generate €500 million ($545.5 million) in annual synergies, but the analysts consider that estimate conservative. “We expect the combined company to return considerable amounts of cash to shareholders in the coming years,” says the 40-year-old director of coverage. Ahold was trading at €19.27 in mid-January, up 27.1 percent over the trailing 12 months. During the same period, Delhaize had jumped 32.4 percent, to €87.25, compared with the 5.5 percent decline posted by Europe’s food retailers overall.