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2012 Georgia Profile: SNAP Changes, Sunday Alcohol Sales Mark Georgia’s Year in Grocery Biz

Georgia Market Profile

Last updated on August 16th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

[gn_note color=”#6666ff”]The 2012 Georgia Profile originally ran in the January 2012 edition of The Shelby Report of the Southeast. Due to reader requests we will be posting our Profiles from each edition of The Shelby Report. The profile will be published on theshelbyreport.com one month after it has run in print.[/gn_note]

by Katie B. Davis/staff writer and Kristen Cloud/staff writer

On Nov. 5, the majority of the Georgia families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits experienced a change. Many began receiving their benefits on an earlier date, but many also began receiving them on a later date.

The number of poor Americans seeking food stamps has risen sharply, to nearly 15 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal report produced with data from the Department of Agriculture. The number has grown by more than 8.1 percent so that, today, about 45.8 million Americans receive food assistance.

States in the Southeast tend to fare worse than in other areas of the country, with some of the largest percentages of people on food stamps, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In Georgia, which ranks among the highest nationally with 19 ­percent of the population on food stamps, approximately 1.8 ­million people received the benefits in August.

The Georgia Food Industry Association (GFIA) was one of the groups that pushed for the change in SNAP benefits distribution. According to an association press release, “The GFIA has been working to spread SNAP distribution over the full month to ­alleviate the sales fluctuations that make it so difficult to run stores effectively. The current distribution formula would not allow for more than a 10-day cycle. This change will allow the discussions to move to the next level and we are hopeful that any initial ­confusion will pay off for us in the long run.”

“Our primary concern is for our customers,” Brenda Reid, media and community relations manager for the Atlanta division of Florida-based Publix, which has 180 stores in Georgia, told The Shelby Report. “The change in when the SNAP benefits will be disbursed will affect them. We have informed our associates about the date changes. This will help us assist our customers as they check out. In terms of inventory control, we will monitor sales at our stores over time and we will be prepared to take care of our customers as needed.”

Ron Edenfield, president and CEO of Atlanta-area grocer Wayfield Foods, agrees. “…the retailers are going to be much better spread out,” said Edenfield. “Between the first of the month and the end of the month is a tremendous amount of (variation) in the hours, some worse than others. We actually have some stores that the sales actually (are about) half at the end of the month. What you end up with is that it’s really, really hard to have the staff that you need there ­during those busy times, or you have too much staff at the end of the (month).

The month’s sales average is about the same, but it fluctuates drastically over the course of the month. “It just makes it easier, it’s good sense,” Edenfield said of the changes.

GFIA President Kathy Kuzava told The Shelby Report, “I’m ready for the next big issue. We are hearing horror stories about how hard it is to operate stores due to SNAP benefits being ­distributed over a 10-day cycle. I believe spreading the benefits over more days in the entire month will be an even bigger impact on the industry than Sunday (alcohol) sales. Stay tuned!”

Sunday sales a go in the Peach State

After five years of heated lobbying that pitted grocery and ­convenience stores against preachers, the Georgia General Assembly gave final approval April 12 to Senate Bill 10—which the House approved by a vote of 127-44—that allowed city ­councils and county commissions to call for referendums on Sunday ­alcohol sales at stores.

In November, 120 of Georgia’s 694 cities and counties voted in the first election date available under state law. Of those that voted, 51 metro Atlanta jurisdictions gave a resounding yes to seven days of package sales. The only city that said no was Palmetto in south Fulton County.

Georgia was the only Southern state—and one of three states nationwide—that still had such a ban.

At one point during the 2011 legislative session, SB 10 ­appeared dead, but an outcry from constituents put it back in play. Industry lobbyists agreed to restrict sales to after 12:30 p.m. on Sundays, which essentially means that one blue law will be ­replaced with another, less stringent one.

Blue laws, designed to enforce religious standards, particularly observance of the Sabbath through restrictions on alcohol and shopping, have been on the decline for decades, both in Georgia and throughout the country. “We would like to commend the city and county leaders throughout the state who have decided to give the people the right to choose what is best for their communities,” Kuzava said. “This effort has always been about our industry’s desire to serve our customers. If the referendums are successful, our customers are the ones who will benefit.”

Edenfield, whose Wayfield stores in College Park and East Point are now selling alcohol on Sundays, said the industry would ­benefit, too. “It will make a difference,” he said. “I don’t know how much that will be, but the biggest issue all the time, from what I hear, is having it there for the customer when they want it, and it’s sitting on the shelf anyway. If it’s beer, it’s in your refrigerated case ­anyway. You’re paying for that space, and (otherwise) you’re ­paying for space you’re not using.

“It just makes sense and I was glad to see it pass,” he added. “…I think over time the state of Georgia will benefit from it, from revenue, from taxes. It’s not going to pass in every community but most of them will. The whole thing, to begin with, is to leave it up to the local community. To give an example, we’re in College Park. If College Park said ‘no, we don’t want to do this,’ well, that would have been fine, too. But they did and I thought it was a pretty practical, sensible thing to do.”

Though Edenfield doesn’t have any Wayfield Foods locations on the western side of the state, he noted that now people who “live on the border…don’t have to go into Alabama to buy it, now they can buy it in Georgia.”

The grocery store industry supplied much of the lobbying ­muscle, hiring some of the best-connected lobbyists at the Capitol. Besides stores and the liquor industry, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other business groups backed the measure.

Kuzava continued her comments on the legislation by stating, “The voters of Georgia won by passage of local-option Sunday sales. We applaud legislators for listening to their constituents.”

Georgia attacking food deserts

A new task force, according to GPB News, is trying to get rid of Georgia’s so-called “food deserts.” The areas are low-income communities in urban and rural parts of the state where fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce. The Philadelphia-based Food Trust identified the state’s biggest food deserts in parts of metro Atlanta. It also found them in some communities south of Macon. Now the group has partnered with several Georgia nonprofits to find ways of attracting supermarkets to the under-served areas.

“There are nearly two million Georgians, including almost 500,000 children, that do not have access to fresh produce,” said Kuzava of the initiative. “That’s (why) we’re trying to analyze the barriers to having supermarkets come into those areas, make ­recommendations and see if we can fix the problem.”

Kuzava says the group will explore different incentives that could help bring grocery stores to the neglected communities.

Publix, according to Reid, was to open a new store in Columbus in December, adding to the company’s openings in Atlanta in the spring of 2011 and two more on the horizon on confirmed sites in Tifton and Conyers.

“We are always looking for new sites that will allow us to better serve our customers,” Reid told The Shelby Report. “Publix has been expanding in Georgia for 20 years. Georgians have been very good to us and we look forward to continuing to grow as the markets grow.”

On Dec. 14, Publix opened a 54,350-s.f. prototype store in Columbus, near the Alabama border. It replaced the existing store in Columbus, which was 37,888 s.f. and was opened in 1997. The new Publix is the centerpiece of Cross Country Plaza’s $10 million renovation, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

“The biggest difference (from the existing Publix store) is…the colors. We’ve gone to calmer colors,” Reid told the newspaper. “The lighting is different. It is designed to look more spacious. Some of the older stores have tiles in the ceiling. These new stores are open to the rafters and you can see the exposed beams.”

While there are five Publix supermarkets already in Columbus and Phenix City, the new prototype includes a drive-thru pharmacy and different types of shelving and cases.

It’s unclear what will go in the old Publix space, though reports indicate officials are in talks with several national retailers, with expectations of splitting the nearly 38,000-s.f. space between two tenants.

In July, Whole Foods Market opened its eighth metro Atlanta location in the Merchants Walk shopping center in East Cobb.

Walmart has plans to build a 151,000-s.f. store in the nearly empty Gwinnett plaza at Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Rockbridge Road in Gwinnett County. It is expected to open in the first quarter of 2013, bringing with it hopefully other business to the all-but-dead shopping center.

In 2011, BI-LO updated nearly two dozen stores throughout its four-state footprint in the Southeast. The latest renovations came in November to three Georgia stores—3457 Peach Orchard Rd. and 2512 Tobacco Rd., both in Augusta; and 34 Statesboro Mall in Statesboro.

“Customers have reacted favorably to the updates at our Augusta and Statesboro stores,” BI-LO President and CEO Michael Byars said. “We have had very positive feedback. These renovations showcase BI-LO’s commitment to excellence. We want to make sure that each and every customer knows that value, ­service, convenience and freshness are a part of everything we do.”

And shoppers must be noticing. “I normally do 90 percent of my grocery shopping at BI-LO and have always been pleased with the customer service and products offered,” one Statesboro shopper said. “I will continue to be a loyal shopper. I love the new store look.”

Another shopper, in Hephzibah near Augusta, reported being “very satisfied with the new look of the store and parking lot.”

Aldi, the discount grocery format that offers a high concentration of store brand products, opened a new store in Gainesville last March, and planned to have stores in Warner Robins, Macon and Athens open by the end of 2011. To help facilitate greater expansion in Georgia, Aldi constructed a 50,000-s.f. warehouse in the city of Jefferson.

A new Kroger opened in Dacula in late February. The 93,000-s.f. store on Dacula Road employs 150-200 people. “All over the Southeast, neighborhoods are feeling the effects of a potentially rebounding economy—Dacula is no different,” Glynn Jenkins, director of communications and public relations for Kroger, told The Shelby Report at the time. “The new store in Dacula brought nearly 200 new jobs to the local area, and we are confident the new Dacula store will play an important role in this community for years to come.”

The Fresh Market opened a new 21,260-s.f. store in Peachtree City, marking the chain’s 11th in Georgia. Birmingham-based Southern Family Markets chose the college town of Athens to test out its Buy 4 Less Discount Foods format, which was installed in one of SFM’s Piggly Wiggly banner stores located a couple of miles outside the University of Georgia ­campus. It underwent extensive remodeling before reopening March 2 under its new name, according to Todd Hartley, senior director of operations for SFM.

Georgia competition ‘the best’

There’s no lack of industry competitors in the Peach State. In fact, Edenfield, who operates nine stores under two banners in the Atlanta area, thinks it’s “some of the best competition in the United States.”

“The main three operators in this market are Kroger, Publix and Walmart,” he said. “They’re all great operators, each a little ­different in philosophy. They all do a great job of really not wanting to give up an ounce of their business and market share, which I think makes us all better.”

How, then, does a relatively small grocer, by comparison, ­compete? Edenfield reveals it’s a combination of elements.

“Price is always important, and you have to be competitive in price—but it’s a total of what you do and how you operate,” he said. “…as long as we concentrate on our customer and be aware of our competition we’ll be OK.”

But, don’t expect Edenfield and others like him to just sit back and know about their competition.

Edenfield takes an aggressive approach when it comes to the future. He believes his competitors do the same, ultimately making the customer the winner.

“We are never satisfied with what we have and are always looking at how we can grow that,” he said. “…I try to remind our people you just can’t let up. There’s just not a day for that. We’re always looking at how we can do it better, what we can do better.”

Edenfield also is looking for customer loyalty—hard to find these days among all the hard-nosed competition across the state.

“I think we have (customer loyalty, but) we’re trying to grow and earn that more and more,” he said. “You’re not going to beat everybody on everything every day. If you can have that loyalty, where they’re really loyal to your store, that’s important.”

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