American Express Co., in a attempt to increase the number of merchants accepting it cards, is making a big push with grocery stores.

The New York-based financial services company has persuaded more than 20 large grocery chains around the country to start accepting the charge card, Optima, and Optima True Grace cards.

The most recent win for the card company is Bruno's Inc., a southeastern chain that began accepting American Express cards in the third quarter.

Other major supermarket chains accepting American Express include A&P, Kroger, Ralph's, Red Apple, and Foodland.

American Express now claims acceptance by 3.8 million merchants worldwide, compared to Visa's 11.5 million.

"We want to give our consumers coverage when and where they want it," said Steve Zacks, vice president of American Express Travel Related Services Inc.

"To this end, we are building partnerships with a broad array of merchants, including supermarkets. Supermarkets are a very important part of our strategy."

Mr. Zacks added that supermarkets are especially interested in joining with American Express because of its penetration in the corporate world.

Businesses, he said, are turning to supermarkets for their bakery, deli, and floral offerings, and employees are instructured to use their corporate cards to make these purchases.

"It's a really smart idea because Amex' share of the corporate market is huge," said Anne Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp., a card consulting firm in Atlanta.

"Employees use their corporate cards for catering or office supplies and such, turn in one bill instead of 10 different scraps of paper, which takes the hassle out of record keeping and decreases the accounting expenses," she said.

American Express is backing its push into the supermarket arena with promotion dollars.

For example, it teamed up with Birmingham, Ala.-based Bruno's to offer a two-month promotion in which they refunded 5% of the total ticket rice when consumers used the card.

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