The Kroger Co. (NYSE:KR), one of the largest U.S. grocery store chains, said Tuesday it will pay $2.4 billion in cash for rival Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc. (NYSE:HTSI) to boost its presence in the southeastern part of the country.

The combined entity will have 2,631 supermarkets and employ more than 368,300 people in 34 states and the District of Columbia, said Kroger, which will finance the deal with debt and assume $100 million of Harris Teeter's outstanding debt.

The $49.38 per share price for Harris Tweeter marks a premium of 33.7 percent to the Harris Teeter closing share price on Jan. 18, the day of the first media report that Harris Teeter was evaluating strategic alternatives. Harris Teeter had about $4.5 billion in revenue in fiscal 2012.

Harris Teeter operates 212 stores in southeastern and mid-Atlantic markets and in Washington, D.C., primarily located in "high-growth markets, vacation destinations and university communities in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia," the companies said.

Harris Teeter also operates distribution centers for grocery, frozen and perishable foods in Greensboro, N.C., and Indian Trail, N.C., and a dairy facility in High Point, N.C.

Kroger expects to achieve annual cost savings of about $40-$50 million over the next three to four years.