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Supermarket operators were on the move in 1997, with several expanding their reach into new marketing areas.

One of the most ambitious and unique expansion plans was announced by H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, which opened a 74,000-square-foot store in February in an upscale suburb of Monterrey, Mexico -- its first store outside the United States. The company said it plans to open two stores a year in Mexico for the next few years.

Baker's Supermarkets, Omaha, Neb., entered the Oklahoma marketplace in early November through the acquisition of five stores -- the first step in what the company said would be a growing supermarket enterprise "[and] the beginning of. . . a long term and viable relationship with Oklahoma shoppers."

Twin County Grocers, Edison, N.J., moved into the Philadelphia area for the first time at midyear when two Shop 'n Bag stores formerly supplied by Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City, converted to the Super Foodtown banner. Twin County said eight more conversions are likely in the Philadelphia area by the end of 1998.

Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., moved into the Phoenix marketplace in June with the acquisition of three Reay's Ranch Market natural-food supermarkets there. The company said it would extend its reach from coast to coast by the end of 1998 with new stores scheduled for Princeton, N.J., and Santa Monica, Calif.

Another natural-food operator, Whole Food Markets, Austin, Texas, was scheduled to enter the Detroit area this month through the acquisition of Merchant of Vino, Farmington Hills, Mich.

Southwest Supermarkets, Phoenix, moved into southern California last summer when it opened three Hispanic-oriented stores near the California/Arizona border -- a preliminary step, the company said, to moving into the San Diego marketplace sometime in the future. Several other chains disclosed plans for future expansion, including:

Giant Foods, Landover, Md., which said it will continue to move northward by expanding its Super G stores in the Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area, where it operates nine stores, with four more planned in 1998 and seven more in subsequent years.

Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., which said it will move beyond its New England base by opening eight stores next year in New York's Hudson Valley.

Stew Leonard's Dairy Store, Norwalk, Conn., which said it will open a new store in Yonkers, N.Y., in the spring of 1999 -- its third location and the first outside Connecticut.

Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., which said it will use the money from the sale of its 61 stores and a distribution center in the Southwest to further its growth in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., which said it hopes to move into the Washington D.C. market in 1998 with two stores.

Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., which disclosed plans to expand into the Princeton, N.J., market in late 1998 or early 1999 -- its first locations outside its New York/Pennsylvania base.

Quality Food Centers, Bellevue, Wash. -- which acquired Hughes Family Markets, Irwindale, Calif., early in the year and was acquired late in the year by Fred Meyer Inc., Portland, Ore. -- which said it plans to expand its upscale store format outside Washington state for the first time with two stores in Portland early next year.

Eagle Food Centers, Milan, Ill., which said it plans to expand in the Chicago area, based on management's belief there's room there for a third major contender to compete with Jewel Food Stores and Dominick's Finer Foods. The company said it anticipates four Chicago-area openings by June and another nine openings there in 1999.

Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., which said it contemplates broadening its base with expansion into suburban Chicago, beginning in 1999 or later, and possibly into southern Wisconsin.

Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., which said it is seeking acquisition opportunities.

A&P, Montvale, N.J., which said it will use superstores as its primary growth vehicle, with 150 new units scheduled to open by 2000 -- mostly new stores in Canada, Michigan and the Northeast.

Kroger Co., Cincinnati, which said it expects square footage to increase about 6% a year over the next three years as it builds 300 new, replacement and expanded stores, mostly in existing operating areas -- although it said it may also expand by selective acquisitions in existing and new markets.

Three chains disclosed plans to move back into inner-city neighborhoods: Pathmark Stores, Woodbridge, N.J., which has begun construction on a 50,000-square-foot store in New York City's Harlem; Shaw's, with a new 53,000-square-foot store set for the Dwight section of New Haven, Conn., and Hyde Park Cooperative Society, Chicago, which plans to open a 41,800-square-foot unit in the city's Kenwood section.