Reynolds Metals Inc. of Richmond, manufacturer of the only nationally marketed brand of aluminum foil, is attempting to repeat its success in the highly competitive consumer plastic wrap market.

After two years of test marketing, Reynolds began nationwide distribution of its plastic wrap on March 1.

Reynolds has made plastic wrap for the food industry for about 20 years, company officials said. But currently, the consumer plastic wrap market is dominated by Dow Chemical's Saran Wrap and Handy Wrap, and Glad Wrap, made by Union Carbide.

Reynolds maintains that the composition of its new wrap makes it easier to handle and provides better protection against odor.

Opinions vary concerning Reynolds' new venture. J. Clarence Morrison, vice president and chief metals analyst for Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., said the move is not surprising. Reynolds "typically has been the innovator in consumer packaging," he said. "This is just another case of excellent" research and development.

Although the food wrap industry had reduced earnings in 1982, "Reynolds has done the best job in the industry of cutting its costs and as a result should show a very good performance some time in the near future," Morrison said.

Competitors acknowledge the quality of the new Reynolds product but question the chances for the company's survival in the plastic wrap arena.

"Saran now has one-third of the market share," said George Vestal, Union Carbide vice president for the Glad products line. "Others have tried it and failed," he said, predicting that Reynolds "will never be a dominant factor in the market."

Although Safeway Stores Inc. is marketing Reynolds' plastic wrap here, Giant Food Corp. spokesman Barry Scher said his chain, which dominates the Washington area, will not carry the product. "We feel there is no need for the item because of the availability of three major national brands in addition to our own house brand."

Reynolds' move comes after almost 10 years of problems for the aluminum industry caused largely by the dramatic rise in energy costs.

Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical and the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa), Reynolds' chief competitors, dropped out of the packaged consumer products line in the 1970s in favor of industrial and commercial sales and wholesale distribution of foil for use in generic supermarket brands.