The independent grocer is “alive and well” in Arkansas, according to Steve Goode, president of the Arkansas Grocers & Retail Merchants Association. Recent years have shown that “independent retailers have the ability to adapt and overcome almost any situation.”
He said independents were able to overcome COVID, supply and transportation issues in the past three years, with 2022 having its own challenges, such as high inflation and a workforce shortage.
The economy in Arkansas in 2022 would appear to be stronger than last year, but with inflation it may be hard to show improvement. While retail sales are up for most of the industry, so are all cost inputs.
“Consumers are having a hard time making their dollar stretch due to double-digit inflation in the grocery sector,” Goode said.
In addition to inflation, pandemic-related issues continue to affect independent grocers. Goode said biggest effect may be that some suppliers are imposing a fuel surcharge due to high fuel prices. Those increases are one more reason consumers experience higher prices.
“Independents are really having to stay on their toes as some prices are changing daily rather than weekly or monthly as we have seen in the past,” he said. “Supply chain issues we are seeing today are caused more by lack of labor for our suppliers than it is product shortage.”
Goode gave an example of two Arkansas-based bread suppliers that have had shortages lately; they have the product but lack the labor to get it to stores.
According to Goode, the biggest challenge facing independents in Arkansas is fluctuating prices, which make it difficult to “determine what a value is to consumers.” The next biggest hurdle is “simply keeping up with all of the price increases and lack of deals from the manufacturer.”
Goode said AGRMA is trying to help its members by communicating what is happening in Washington, D.C., and in the state capital of Little Rock. “This allows them to better prepare in their stores,” he added.
One example is letting grocers know when the extra P-EBT dollars are coming. This information will allow them to be better prepared for the extra $391 per child that eligible Arkansas families will be receiving.
In the most recent session of Arkansas’ legislature, a plastic bag and container uniformity bill was passed. Goode said this will make ensure no cities or counties can prohibit or tax plastic bags, cups, containers or any foam packaging.
“This uniformity bill made sure that retailers with stores in multiple locations would have the same rules applied to all locations,” he said.
Goode added that Arkansas is the first state to pass an online marketplace consumer inform act.
“This bill helped regulate online marketplaces to stop organized retail crime,” he said.
As far as opposing legislation, the association worked with the Arkansas Beverage Association to overturn a soft drink tax that had been state law since the 1990s, Goode said. “We were not able to help get that tax eliminated,” he said.
He added that AGRMA was “blessed to work with members of the legislature to keep some (bills) from being filed.”
The association has since turned its attention to compiling a legislative package for 2023.
AGRMA members gathered at conferences in 2021 and 2022. Some topics discussed last year were the success of the legislative session and how to grow association membership.
Goode said Legislative Retail Champion awards were presented to Sen. Jonathan Disman and Reps. David Ray and Brian Evans.
This year, topics included plans for the 2023 legislative session, along with ways to grow membership.
Perspective makes a difference
As an independent grocer himself, Goode said he has been able to benefit the association in his role as president. He worked with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration from 2015-20.
He was over tobacco control for the first four years and after a transformation of government, was placed over tobacco, alcohol, casinos, racing and medical marijuana.
“Running state agencies and dealing with the legislature and the governor’s office has given me insight as to how things work in Little Rock,” Goode said. “Building relationships with legislators, state agencies and the governor’s office over that time has helped, also.”
He said he can now “speak the language of the retail association” to the legislators and governor’s staff, as well as with the association’s members.
“This communication has made us very effective at the Capitol,” he said.
For more information, visit agrma.org.
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