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TEXT BY NANCY LUNA, PHOTO COURTESY WAL-MART STORES
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is opening its two first Walmart Neighborhood Market stores in Orange County later this summer. The food-focused stores are intended to rival tradtional supermarkets.
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Four Walmart grocery stores opening in O.C.

Four Walmart food stores opening in O.C.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The supermarket wars are heating up again as Wal-Mart� Stores Inc. has plans to add more food offerings in Orange County.

The retail giant plans to open two Walmart Neighborhood Markets and two Walmart Supercenters in Orange County -- concepts targeting consumers looking for affordable, one-stop grocery shopping. The four Walmart stores will open in spaces where big-box retailers have left voids in Huntington Beach (two locations), Rancho Santa Margarita and Irvine.

When the stores open over the next 12 months, Wal-Mart will have 16 locations in Orange County.

"Our goal is to serve our customers in Orange County," said Delia Garcia, a West Coast spokeswoman for Walmart stores. "We have several ways with two new supercenters, which will provide them one-stop shopping — and with the Neighborhood Markets, which will offer affordable groceries."

The Walmart Neighborhood Markets are among a string of new food stores Wal-Mart is developing across the country to broaden the chain's portfolio. So far, the company has opened 167 stores that offer shoppers a full line of groceries in a footprint that rivals the size of traditional supermarkets like Vons, Ralphs or Sprouts.

In Huntington Beach, the 31,000-square-foot Walmart store is taking over a former Rite Aid on Beach Boulevard and Atlanta Boulevard near Mama's on 39. The store, along with the 33,000-square-foot Rancho Santa Margarita market, will carry fresh produce, frozen foods, meat and dairy. Organic foods will also be available.

"For those on the go, the deli offers hot rotisserie chicken, a wide variety of meats, cheeses and freshly prepared foods," Garcia said.

The Rancho Santa Margarita,  , is also slated to sell alcohol, Walmart said.

The neighborhood grocery concept, stocked with 29,000 items, is part of Wal-Mart's plan to diversify and add more basic groceries for consumers. The first food-focused store opened in 1998. A typical store is about 42,000 square feet — about four times larger than a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market but similar in size to a traditional supermarket.

Along with perishables, Walmart Neighborhood Markets sell health and beauty products, stationery, paper goods, bakery foods, canned goods, condiments and spices, pet supplies and household merchandise. These smaller Walmart stores also offer a one-hour photo center and drive-through pharmacies.

Though Wal-Mart is entering Orange County with a grocery-focused concept, the chain is still moving forward with plans to add more big-box discount stores in the area.

The retail giant will open supercenters in Irvine and Huntington Beach. Each will stock more than 142,000 grocery and merchandise items. Wal-Mart is also retrofitting some existing discount stores to include perishable foods, including a 24-hour store in Orange.

The Surf City store will occupy the 108,000-square-foot Expo Design Center space at 6912 Edinger Ave. When both Huntington Beach stores open, the city will be home to three Walmarts. The larger Walmart store on Edinger will be similar to the Anaheim store that opened at the end of August, Garcia said.

That store, the chain's 12th in Orange County, is open 24 hours. It sells apparel and accessories, lawn and garden equipment, health and beauty products, electronics and a full line of groceries. Supercenters are meant to be a "one-stop" shopping experience for consumers, Garcia said.

The arrival of more Walmart grocery stores brings a new player to the county's vast variety of food stores.

Fresh & Easy is testing express stores in Laguna Niguel, Seal Beach and Garden Grove. Target, best known for its chic but cheap clothing and merchandise, has been retrofitting existing Orange County stores to add groceries since 2009. Whole Foods Market is also opening new markets in Newport Beach and Laguna Niguel.

Sprouts Farmers Market recently opened its 14th natural foods store in Orange County. Ralphs and Vons have been remodeling older Orange County stores to attract more shoppers.

The Rancho Santa Margarita and Huntington Beach Walmart stores are slated to open in August. The Walmart Supercenter in Irvine, located at a former Sam's Club building at 16555 Von Karman Ave., is expected to open in January 2013. An opening date has not been set for the Walmart Supercenter in Huntington Beach.

Tell us: Will you shop at a Walmart Neighborhood Market if the prices are better than Vons, Ralphs or Albertsons?

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Contact the writer: nluna@ocregister.com


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