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Independent Grocery Is Economic Engine, Churning Forward

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Greg Ferrara

by Greg FerraraPresident and CEO, National Grocers Association

Anyone familiar with the independent supermarket industry knows that independent community grocers are entrepreneurs within the marketplace, seeking any opportunity to innovate and grow, and now the numbers are in to prove it.

NGA commissioned John Dunham & Associates to conduct its latest economic impact study to demonstrate the strength of independent operators in the grocery industry. Last conducted in 2013, the study illustrates the growth of independent community grocers and the impact they have on their communities, states and the nation.

Local and regional independent operators have added to their store counts, introduced new formats and increased their market share. Through strategic investment and planning, they found themselves well positioned to meet the intense demand placed on them by consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have proven themselves to be indispensable partners in their communities and local economies.

According to study research, independent grocers’ sales rose from $131 billion when the study was last conducted to $253.6 billion in 2020. During this same period, overall U.S. grocery store sales rose from $524 billion to $772 billion.

Independent grocery sales account for a third of total grocery sales, up from a quarter a decade ago, during which time local and regional independent retailers have added to their store counts and launched new retail formats, which have driven market share.

Meanwhile, e-commerce also has driven sales as independent grocers have invested more in their online shopping platforms, which gave them an edge during the pandemic of the past year. 

According to Insider Intelligence, online grocery sales grew 54 percent in 2020 to nearly $96 billion, driving it to a 12 percent share of total U.S. e-commerce sales and 7.4 percent of all grocery sales. 

On the employment front, the new study revealed that independent community grocers are responsible for more than 1.1 million jobs (up from 944,200 previously) earning wages approaching $39 billion. 

Wholesalers serving independent grocers provided more than 44,000 jobs that earn wages of nearly $3.3 billion. Additionally, the independent grocery industry is responsible for nearly 860,000 jobs across other industries, including agriculture, manufacturing and transportation.

Sales growth in the fresh perimeter of grocery stores – including meat, baked goods and prepared foods – has driven greater demand for skilled workers such as butchers, bakers and chefs. As demand for these and other fresh products remains strong, opportunities abound for career pathways.

There’s also power behind grocery’s efforts to help the food insecure. In 2020, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income families afford more healthy foods, was responsible for nearly 200,000 U.S. grocery industry jobs with wages totaling more than $6.7 billion.

Additionally, SNAP drove job growth of nearly 45,000 jobs in supporting industries. It also was responsible for 2020 federal tax receipts of more than $1 billion, as well as state and local taxes topping $975 million.

NGA is crunching the numbers by state and legislative district. This will make the study an indispensable tool for independent operators in making the case about their importance to the country’s micro- and macroeconomies

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