Food Lion has released a free shopping app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users.

“By the end of January we’re hoping to get at least 5,000 people to sign up,” said Benny Smith, spokesman for Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion.

The app can be downloaded at http://itunes.apple.com/app/food-lion/id407019228?mt=8. It’s limited to Apple devices, but Food Lion plans to offer it for other platforms sometime in 2011, Smith said.

“We figured with the recent surge in smartphone use and an expected increase in 2011, it was imperative we do this,” Smith said. “It allows customers to interact with us when it’s at their convenience.”

Developed in partnership with Mercatus USA, the Food Lion app allows users to:

  • Learn when seasonal fruits, vegetables and other products become available;
  • build virtual shopping lists;
  • download recipes;
  • locate stores;
  • access weekly specials; and
  • sign up for the in-house discount card program, Food Lion MVP.

Food Lion has been promoting the app on its website, www.foodlion.com, since its Dec. 21 release. One promotion, the “Holiday Wrap Up Sweepstakes,” awarded iPod Touches and other prizes. It ended Dec. 27.

Food Lion operates more than 1,300 supermarkets in 11 Southeast and mid-Atlantic states under the Food Lion, Bloom, Har-veys and Reid’s names.

Mercatus USA is a New Jersey-based business technology company.

Organizations introducing smartphone apps in the last few months include, among others, Dole Fresh Vegetables; Sunkist Growers; and the California Strawberry Commission.