Carl Cronanis editor of RealEstate Florida.

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HAINES CITY, FL-Aldi Group, a German-rooted discount grocerychain, is launching its expansion into the "land of Publix" with a500,000-sf distribution center in Polk County. It also plans fordozens of new stores in Central and Southwest Florida.

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The company, which promises markdowns up to 50% on commonsupermarket items, is investing $40 million in its Haines Citywarehouse on 73 acres south of Interstate 4. The center willservice 25 stores beginning this fall, primarily in the Orlando,Tampa and St. Petersburg markets.

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"We will be aggressively expanding throughout Central Floridaover the next several years," David Behm, Aldi's VP in Orlando,tells Real Estate Florida. The rate of expansion could be ashigh as 15 stores annually after this year's openings, he says.

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According to the company's website, Aldi seeks locations with16,600 sf and at least 85 dedicated parking spaces on up to threeacres. Development lots or pads are preferred, with ground leasesand inline end-cap spaces also considered. Co-owned andfreestanding sites may also be part of the chain's mix in Florida,Behm adds.

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Aldi's push into Florida is made more interesting given that itsnew distribution center will be built near the Lakelandheadquarters of Publix Super Markets Inc., a regional chain thathas dominated grocery sales statewide for decades. However, anycomparison of Aldi to Publix would be, simply, apples andoranges.

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"We consider ourselves the premier grocer on the discount side,"Behm says. Aldi, which is approaching 900 stores in 26 states among8,000 stores worldwide, appeals to do-it-yourself types who cansack their own groceries, preferably in their own bags.

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While its stores are intended to be basic, Aldi doesn't want tobe viewed as a dollar-store type operation, Behm says. The companyseeks locations in trade areas with populations of at least 35,000within three miles, on sites at signaled intersections orconvenient access.

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Aldi is the 25th largest grocer in the US with annual sales ofnearly $6 billion, based on rankings by Supermarket News, anational trade publication. Publix, with 925 stores throughout theSoutheast and $23 billion in yearly sales, ranks seventh.

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