OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Concern is mounting for smaller, more rural areas across South Florida in wake of the Aldi supermarket chain’s takeover of Winn-Dixie grocery stories.On Wednesday, ALDI announced it was buying 400 Winn-Dixies in an effort to expand across the Southeast, but in some communities, like Okeechobee and Belle Glade, the well-known red and white chain is one of few options, and a major employer. In Okeechobee, for example, there are four major grocery store chains to choose from, as opposed to the average 70 the U.S. Department of Agriculture said are often an option in more urban areas. As of right now, Aldi is already an option for Okeechobee County residents. By creating two Aldis, Okeechobee Mayor Downling Watford said the choices dwindle.
An Aldi is located in Okeechobee County.”If we lose Winn-Dixie, that’s just one less choice we have,” Watford said.The bigger concern for him is employment. According to both companies’ websites, ALDI typically employs about 8-10 people per store. It’s part of the reason they are able to keep prices so affordable for families. On the flip side, Winn-Dixie averages dozens more per store, prompting Watford to wonder: What happens to those extra employees if the store transitions to an Aldi?
Okeechobee Mayor Dowling Watkins is concerned about the takeover of Winn Dixie by Aldi. “Fifty or 60 jobs in a community like Okeechobee is a huge deal where we fight to get companies to come in that have 10-12 jobs,” Watford said.Not everyone was opposed, however. Some residents, like James Grueber, were thrilled to have another ALDI coming in. “I love Aldis!” Grueber said, citing low prices and fresh produce. Anthony Infante, however, disagreed. “I’ve been coming here since my parents came here,” Infante said. [The store is] somebody I grew up with, actually, you know what I mean? It’s where I’ve been shopping all my life.” Infante added he trusts Winn-Dixie, and fears the lack of options he’d have if it was replaced by an ALDI. “I like this stuff, I know where this stuff comes from,” said Infante. “It’s kind of like you’re about to lose an old friend,” Watford added.WPTV reached out to Aldi and Southeast Grocers, the company that owns Winn-Dixie. ALDI released this statement to us on behalf of its CEO, Jason Hart, reading in full,:
“ALDI will operate Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket stores with the same level of care and focus on quality and service, as we also evaluate which locations will convert to the ALDI format to better support the neighborhoods we’ll now have the privilege of serving. For those stores we do not convert, our intention is that these continue to operate as Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket stores.”
An ALDI spokesperson also released the following:
“This acquisition is an opportunity to continue the growth we already had planned for the region as part of our strategic and deliberate national expansion. ALDI has been committed to continued growth in Winn-Dixie’s headquarters state of Florida. With 209 ALDI stores and 8 more slated to open by the end of 2023 in Florida, we have invested more than $1.5B in the state and created more than 3,900 jobs to date. With food prices still on the rise and the need for access to affordable groceries more important than ever before, ALDI has a significant opportunity to help residents in the Southeast save up to 40% on their grocery bills.”
Aldi did not, however, answer our questions regarding the employment of Winn-Dixie workers, despite us asking multiple times. Meredith Hurley, senior director of communications and community at Southeastern Grocers, released this statement to us, reading in full:
“While we cannot comment or speculate on any forward-looking strategies or another company’s plans, we can confirm that nothing changes today. We understand that ALDI does not intend to convert all of our stores. ALDI’s current plan [prnewswire.com] is to continue operating Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket stores with the same level of care and focus on quality and service as they also evaluate which locations will convert to the ALDI format to better support the neighborhoods they will now serve.”
“I hope we keep both,” Watford said.For more information on the history of Winn-Dixie, click here.