Farm Fresh, Harris Teeter and Hannaford supermarkets have something banks crave: heavy traffic.

It's one reason why bankers are turning up in store aisles.

Centura Bank of Rocky Mount, N.C., established a foothold in Hampton Roads earlier this year by installing financial-service kiosks inside five Hannaford supermarkets.

In October, NationsBank opened its first supermarket branch in Virginia at a Harris Teeter in Newport News. NationsBank, based in Charlotte, has similar branches at 277 supermarkets in a half-dozen other states, including Texas and Florida.

The presence of bank branches near produce bins and deli counters isn't new to Hampton Roads. Central Fidelity National Bank began installing branches inside Farm Fresh stores in the late 1980s. But more recently, bank branches have become part of each new supermarket or large discount store.

Because of the low cost of opening these branches and their exposure to potential customers, banks will open about 1,600 in-store branches this year, the Atlanta consulting firm International Banking Technologies predicts. That would bring the nationwide total to almost 6,000, a 36 percent increase for the year, said Tom Hidell, chief operating officer of the consulting firm.

Among banks, the acceptance of in-store branches isn't universal. First Union, for one, isn't interested.

"We've tested them, and we've acquired banks with in-store branches. We concluded they're not for us," said Jeep Bryant, a spokesman for Charlotte- based First Union. "Our experience indicated that consumers go to supermarkets to buy groceries, not to open an account or apply for a credit card."

First Coastal Savings Bank of Virginia Beach installed two in-store branches at Harris Teeter supermarkets in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake last year.

To date, the results have been "adequate," said John Chattleton, executive vice president for retail banking at the Virginia Beach-based thrift.

Still, First Coastal will open more of these branches, including one at a Harris Teeter store under construction on Baltic Avenue in Virginia Beach.

That's because of the heavy flow of traffic through supermarkets, Chattleton said.

"Getting to customers is critical," he said. "Traditional branches are never going to get the floor traffic that a supermarket branch will get."

However, employees at in-store branches have to be adept at building customer relationships and selling if these branches are going to pay off.

"Our staff has got to work the aisles and know their products," Chattleton said.