How is discount grocer Aldi trying to stand out in a crowded Florida market?

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TAMPA — It has been eight years since the low-cost German grocer Aldi opened its first store in the Sunshine State.

Of its roughly 1,600 stores in 34 states, about 100 locations will be in Florida by the end of the year. Nineteen of them are in Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk and Pinellas counties, employing nearly 400 people.

Aldi regional vice president Dave Rinaldo recently spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about the grocer's expansion in Florida and how it competes in the fast-growing market here.

It seems Aldi has experienced some tremendous growth in Florida over the years. How does it compare to your other markets?

Eight years ago this fall we opened the business in Florida. It's been a terrific success story for us down here. We launched operations in California this year and we're growing aggressively coast to coast. But Florida has been one of the aggressive markets for us year over year.

There's so much grocer competition in Florida. How does Aldi differentiate itself?

When we're looking for stores we're trying to go into the center of the retail corridor. We're looking at high traffic counts with the population to serve those stores. The competition is fierce out there but the two sacred pillars for us are the quality and the price. When you look at the parking lots, it's the loyal customers we have who are filling them up. We provide savings of up to 50 percent on many items and that allows us to be in the densest, most populated retail trade areas.

It's the value we're offering day in and day out. I've got four kids myself. I understand what it's like to feed a big and growing family. We've placed a real premium on nutrition, with gluten-free, organic, free-range options. That's a core engine for us right now to drive new customers and drive customer trips to the stores. The fresh produce and fresh meat is where we've disproportionately added new items and I see that as the continued emphasis.

As a bargain-focused store, you guys take aim at Walmart. What do you offer that is different?

I'm not going to talk about specific competition. What we're after is a smart customer who values their money but has a desire for quality. If you want fresh produce at great prices, Aldi delivers that. We have grown to offer imported wines, gluten-free and organic products.

The state of Florida has an incredibly growing population, and we've been shown to resonate with people here.

Our target market is that smart shopper who is paying attention to quality and price. That said, price can be sometimes a little bit misleading. The value is really what brings people coming back over and over. Price without quality is a pretty hollow exercise.

Have you found Tampa and Florida's booming real estate market to be a limiting factor as you look to expand here?

I wouldn't say that. It's part of doing business. We're going to open just shy of 20 stores this year and 10 to 20-plus next year in the state of Florida. I wouldn't say it's an inhibiting factor. We're optimistic about what the growth plans can be. We know we need to have more stores in Tampa.

Speaking of Tampa, it seems Aldi has mostly stayed out of the downtown area. Why is that?

We are looking for locations throughout Tampa. There's no area we said we're not going to open in. If you had all day I could list all the places I would want to open in tomorrow. There's so many markets where I see we have tremendous opportunity. We're kind of on the ground level of what we're planning in Florida.

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.

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