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Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.

HAINES CITY, FL-Aldi Group, a German-rooted discount grocery chain, is launching its expansion into the “land of Publix” with a 500,000-sf distribution center in Polk County. It also plans for dozens of new stores in Central and Southwest Florida.

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

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

According to the company’s website, Aldi seeks locations with 16,600 sf and at least 85 dedicated parking spaces on up to three acres. Development lots or pads are preferred, with ground leases and inline end-cap spaces also considered. Co-owned and freestanding sites may also be part of the chain’s mix in Florida, Behm adds.

Aldi’s push into Florida is made more interesting given that its new distribution center will be built near the Lakeland headquarters of Publix Super Markets Inc., a regional chain that has dominated grocery sales statewide for decades. However, any comparison of Aldi to Publix would be, simply, apples and oranges.

“We consider ourselves the premier grocer on the discount side,” Behm says. Aldi, which is approaching 900 stores in 26 states among 8,000 stores worldwide, appeals to do-it-yourself types who can sack their own groceries, preferably in their own bags.

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

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

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