ST. LOUIS — The battle for Americans’ grocery budgets isn’t unique to the St. Louis market. Across the country big chains and independent stores are vying for a bigger piece of the consumer pie, with Minneapolis-based Target Corp. using its PFresh format as its weapon of choice in the fight.

The chain first tested the midsized format in its home state in 2008. Initial success there led to a nationwide plan to add stores and renovate some existing stores to conform to the PFresh format.

The format is described in promotional materials as a “mini supercenter” that provides 40% more food products, including fresh produce, than a traditional Target while requiring only slightly more floor space.

In the St. Louis area, the first PFresh format store opened in Brentwood in October 2009. Since then the PFresh format has been introduced in stores in the Kirkwood, Shilo, Bridgeton, Arnold and South County areas. The chain plans to remodel 380 locations nationwide this year, which would give it 850 mini supercenters.

At the South County location, about 15 minutes west of downtown St. Louis on Interstate 55, executive Curt Whitworth said the new format is popular with regular customers and attracting new customers.

“We rolled out the PFresh format at the end of March and response has been very positive,” Whitworth said. “Customers have said they like the one-stop-shop aspect.”

Whitworth said the PFresh format required the addition of a few more employees, partly because of the attention and time it takes to maintain a fresh produce section. He said staff is aware of the short shelf-life of fresh produce and has been trained to make sure the produce aisle gets regular attention.

Although the PFresh produce department is not as large as those at the local grocery chains such as Dierbergs or Schnucks, it does include a variety of standard and specialty produce. There are also fresh-cut products that come to the store ready for the shelf, Whitworth said.

On a nationwide basis, Target Corp. officials have said they have seen an overall lift of 6% to 7% in sales when stores are converted to the PFresh format.