Aldi, the no-frills grocer that's priced well below Wal-Mart, is stepping up growth in Florida and the Tampa Bay market in particular.
With six new stores set to open by year's end in the Orlando area, the German grocer has turned its attention to filling in holes in the bay area and entering South Florida for the first time. By the time the dust settles in two years, Aldi's 26 Florida stores are planned to double, and nine Aldis in the four-county bay area promises to be closer to 20.
"We've got deals for a second store in southern Brandon and Port Richey and several others on the cusp of being done deals," said Wylie Klyce, the chain's Florida director of real estate. "You'll see construction start soon with probably a half-dozen more stores open in the bay area in 2010."
At a statewide deal-making trade show staged this week by the International Council of Shopping Centers, Aldi was one of a handful of value-oriented retailers — others included Beall's Outlets, Big Lots and thrift stores including Goodwill — singled out as hot growth chains despite a slumping retail economy.
The 989-store chain that brought its many shopping eccentricities to the Sunshine State made it clear it's digging in for the long haul.
Customers begin learning the frugal Aldi way the moment they get to the door. The chain keeps the parking lots free of empty grocery carts by charging a quarter deposit for their use, reimbursable when the cart returns to the corral. Inside, the aisles are lined with about 1,400 items displayed in cut-open cartons, a thirtieth of the cornucopia found in a typical supermarket. The selection is about as wide as a Costco or Sam's Club, but free of big-volume economy packs.
It's almost exclusively Aldi store brands, usually in one brand and one size, but prices are all sharply discounted. You bag your groceries and buy or supply your own reusable bag.
As its first year in the bay area comes to a close in October, Aldi acknowledges the sales lift from the recession as shoppers sought relief from rising food prices.
"But once a customer shops with us we usually keep them," said Klyce, whose chain likes to be near conventional supermarkets for customers who cannot find everything they want.
The prices and ease of food buying in a layout the size of a drugstore helped propel Aldi nationally to a 19 percent sales gain in 2008, to $6.6 billion.
In the bay area, Aldi's market share of less than 1 percent after nine months exceeded expectations. But it's less than half that of Save-A-Lot, its national limited-assortment rival that has 22 stores here and is owned by Eden Prairie, Minn., SuperValu Inc.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.