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Wal-Mart small grocery stores set for Arizona start

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N plans to open its "Marketside" small-scale grocery stores in the Phoenix, Arizona area on October 4, setting up a showdown with rival Tesco Plc TSCO.L in the market for fresh groceries and prepared foods.

In addition to convenience, Marketside will also convey its parent company’s message of affordable prices.

The world’s largest retailer was putting the final touches on the four stores southeast of Phoenix on Tuesday with signs announcing the opening date, less than a year after Britain’s Tesco entered the southwest United States with a similar concept.

Tesco has 78 of its Fresh & Easy stores in Arizona, California and Nevada.

Plans call for Marketside, with its name emblazoned on the store in lower-case, lime green lettering, to offer customers what it calls quick-strike, affordable options to buying fresh groceries and prepared meals.

“Everyone is looking for the answer to the question of ‘What’s for dinner?’” said Mike Thomas, store manager at a Marketside in Chandler, Ariz. “We’re providing a meal solution for people on the go, people who want something that’s convenient, fresh and affordable.”

He said he believes that shoppers will find the roughly 15,000-square-foot stores attractive despite the weak economy.

“Our pricing is going to be very competitive and accessible to everybody,” Thomas said.

NO WAL-MART NAME

The store’s concept is illustrated signs announcing the opening, which look like place-settings.

“Marketside. Recommended by food critics and financial planners. Come shop with us,” the signs read.

The new Marketside units are on former drug store properties in growing suburban areas in this desert city.

The name Wal-Mart is nowhere to be found on these new stores, an intentional move by the discount retailer, Thomas said.

Wal-Mart officials largely have been mum about plans for the convenience-sized stores, saying last month that the markets are a pilot test and there are no firm plans beyond that. On Tuesday, the stores still were under wraps, with plastic covering windows and doors.

The retailer is the latest in a string of companies to take a hard look at the small store niche. Safeway Inc SWY.N is testing the marketplace in California, and Whole Foods Market Inc WFMI.O is exploring the idea.

Reporting by David Schwartz, editing by Peter Henderson and Brad Dorfman

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