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Independents Lead As Pandemic Uncertainty Clouds Holiday Season

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Greg Ferrara

by Greg Ferrara / president and CEO, National Grocers Association

At this writing, summer has given way to fall and many folks are looking ahead to the winter holidays. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to subside, supply chain challenges persist.

Exact conditions may vary by market and region, but some items may be more difficult to find than others, and those items on the shelves likely are more expensive. 

That’s largely a result of the nationwide labor shortage impacting many industries including grocery. Fewer people to manufacture, transport and sell goods, coupled with ingredient and packaging shortages, means fewer products and higher prices.

Luckily for consumers, many independent community grocery retailers – having learned the lessons of 2020 – got their orders in early and stocked up for the 2021 holidays to minimize the impact of the worker shortage and the latest COVID wave.

Encouraging customers to shop early for the holidays is always a wise strategy, even more so under current conditions. To be sure, there’s plenty of food in the supply chain, but certain high-demand items may be less available at certain times. 

Grocers should advise their shoppers to secure “must haves” in a timely fashion to ensure their presence on fall and winter holiday tables, but also to be mindful of their neighbors and limit quantities to only what they need. 

Engage shoppers – be eager to help them with their needs, make them feel comfortable about asking questions about item availability or, if necessary, alternatives.

That’s not to say the retail outlook for the holidays and the months beyond won’t present significant challenges for independent grocers. Suppliers have put retailers on allocations for many high-demand products as they work through kinks in the supply chain. 

But the issue goes far beyond the usual spikes in holiday demand and even the current pandemic-driven ruptures in the marketplace.

NGA has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission, detailing how predatory action by dominant retailers in the grocery marketplace has often led to unfair contract terms for independent grocers. 

This unchecked anticompetitive behavior leaves independent store owners and their customers with fewer options and paying more for products.

It’s a much deeper problem that has been exponentially magnified by pandemic-driven supply chain fluctuations – the non-enforcement of decades-old antitrust laws designed to level the playing field between independent community grocers and the largest chain retailers. 

In a prior column, I outlined NGA’s ongoing antitrust efforts. Since that writing, NGA SVP of Government Affairs and Counsel Chris Jones testified at an open FTC hearing about the effects of economic discrimination on the grocery marketplace. 

The result is a system that benefits a select few at the expense of everyone else, including consumers, workers and independent retailers and suppliers.

On all these fronts, NGA is mounting a comprehensive antitrust advocacy approach that would rein in growing power-buyer influence by big-box and dollar chain stores and encourage grocery investment in disadvantaged communities. 

We encourage all independent grocers to learn more about how they can help advance our campaign by visiting nationalgrocers.org/antitrust.

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