Customer growth has prompted a leading discount grocer to construct an Atlanta-area distribution center.
Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi Inc. plans to build a large distribution center in Jefferson, Ga., northeast of Atlanta and south of Interstate 85.

Though a company spokeswoman declined to state specifics about the proposed distribution facility, a report in the Atlanta Business Chronicle stated the retailer planned to construct a 482,000-square-foot facility, and in the future seek permission to expand an additional 299,000 square feet.

Martha Swaney, an Aldi spokeswoman, said Aldi owns the property and plans to build on it but was working on securing building permits. Once construction starts, Swaney said the building process would take about 18 months.

She said she wasn’t sure when ground would be broken and said the project’s start depends on local government permitting approval.

The new facility would serve Aldi’s 20 Atlanta-area stores now served through Aldi’s Salisbury, N.C., distribution center, Swaney said.

She said the select assortment discount retailer, which in 2008 opened its 1,000th location, opened 100 stores in 2008 and plans to open another 80 this year.

Aldi has been growing its presence in the Southeast through expansions in central Florida, which included construction of 25 stores from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Tampa, Fla.

Aldi, which opened a distribution center in Haines City, Fla., last summer, plans to open another 10 central Florida stores this year, Swaney said.

With stores primarily in the eastern half of the U.S., in 30 states from Vermont to Kansas and Minnesota to Florida, Aldi this spring opened its first Massachusetts location in Rayham. The chain is preparing to enter Texas by opening stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the spring of 2010, Swaney said.

Swaney said consumers have embraced the retailer in the Southeast and that the region remains important for its store expansions. She said additional store openings would likely occur in regions where Aldi already has stores.

Additional locations are planned for the Atlanta area, which currently include two in Atlanta proper, once the distribution center is completed, she said.

Swaney said produce has played a key role in Aldi’s growth.

“Produce is an area we are very proud of and is something we have been significantly expanding upon during the last couple of years,” she said. “During this recession, Aldi is doing well. This is a time where it’s important to be able to offer shoppers quality products at significant savings.”

While the chain attracts many new customers during economic downturns, Swaney said a key has been its ability to retain the customers once times improve.

Aldi, founded in Iowa in 1976, serves 18 million customers a month through its assortment of 1,400 grocery items, which include basic produce items as well as baby carrots and tricolor bell peppers. About 95% of Aldi’s products sell under its select brands label.