Independent grocer Jimmy Wright, owner of Opelika, Alabama-based Wright’s Market, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business on Wednesday, Sept. 30, on behalf of the National Grocers Association (NGA). The hearing was titled “How COVID-19 is Impacting Small Businesses Across the Food System.”
Wright was one of four business leaders scheduled to testify virtually before the committee.
Wright said the pandemic has demonstrated how the economic playing field is tilted against small independent operators in several ways: lack of antitrust enforcement, dominance of power buyers in the marketplace and limited ability to sell products to SNAP customers online.
“These are key competitive issues that will impair our ability to succeed in the grocery marketplace unless the federal government acts to stand up for Main Street grocers,” Wright testified.
“Dominant retailers use their size and scale to impose discriminatory conditions on manufacturers and suppliers in a way that disadvantages smaller independents, which impedes our ability to compete,” he told the committee.
Expanding on his experiences with the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, Wright said, “The technical barriers and costs of participating in SNAP online make it difficult for small retailers, who must also work through an extensive application and testing process. My store remains the only single-store operator to launch. … Independents need a quicker approval process, less technical barriers and lower implementation costs to compete.”
Wright concluded, “A level playing field is critical to preserving a thriving and vibrant independent grocery sector.”
Also scheduled to speak were Kimberly Gorton, president and CEO of Slade Gorton & Co. Inc., who testified on behalf of the National Fisheries Institute; Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union; and Collin Castore, owner of Seventh Son Brewing and president of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA).
To view a video of the hearing, click here.
The NGA is the national trade association representing the retail and wholesale grocers that comprise the independent sector of the food distribution industry. An independent retailer is a privately owned or controlled food retail company operating a variety of formats. The independent grocery sector is accountable for close to one percent of the nation’s overall economy and is responsible for generating $131 billion in sales, 944,000 jobs, $30 billion in wages, and $27 billion in taxes. NGA members include retail and wholesale grocers, state grocers associations, as well as manufacturers and service suppliers.