(April 26) NEW ORLEANS — The Big Easy, apparently, was just too difficult a market for Albertsons Inc.

So Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, the No. 2 U.S. grocer, announced April 16 that it was pulling out of New Orleans.

“This market exit is consistent with our strategic imperative to maximize return on invested capital,” Larry Johnston, chairman, chief executive officer and president of the company, said in a news release. “In markets where we are not No. 1 or 2 and cannot see a path to either get there or generate an acceptable return for shareholders, we will exit and use the proceeds to invest elsewhere.”

Only a few weeks earlier, Albertsons made a major move to increase its market presence in six New England states by purchasing the East Bridgewater, Mass.-based U.S. grocery business of British supermarket chain J. Sainsbury PLC for more than $2.1 billion.

That purchase, which hasn’t closed, would give Albertsons 202 Shaw’s and Star Market stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

But the chain said New Orleans, where it operates only five stores, did not mesh with its goal to be a No. 1 or No. 2 operator in all of its markets.

“I think that’s smart,” said Ed Odron, president of Produce Marketing Consultants, a Stockton, Calif.-based retail consulting firm. “In the past, it was an ego thing, like it was embarrassing to pull out of some areas. But today, you crunch some numbers, and if it doesn’t pan out over three or four years, you have to make some tough decisions.”

Albertsons officials said its stores in New Orleans would be either sold or closed. The company did not disclose how many jobs would be affected. But it did say that that four of its five New Orleans units might be sold to Montvale, N.J.-based Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc.