While New Mexico’s economy is not bad, it’s also not very strong, according to Breck Stewart, executive director of the New Mexico Grocers Association. Stewart also is an independent grocer in Albuquerque.
“Our unemployment percentage is pretty good in the state, but it seems that most businesses have ‘help wanted’ signs posted. The supply chain is getting better but seems to be a moving target. One month you get a certain product, then it seems to fall off again. But at the same time, other products suddenly are on the shelf. All in all, it is a major improvement from a year ago.”
Inflation is being felt across the industry, spurring new conversations with customers who don’t understand why prices are so high, Stewart said.
“We try to explain that it all starts with the producers having to pay more for fuel, feed, fertilizers, labor, insurance, utilities and many other parts of their businesses that are a part of doing business – and that goes for everyone in the supply chain,” he said.
“It always trickles down to the consumers. Groceries are not any different than every other product or service they pay for.”
The New Mexico Legislature began its 60-day session Jan. 17. The NMGA is following – and will oppose – three bills scheduled to be introduced, Stewart said. Two concern minimum wage increases and the third proposes to raise state taxes on liquor.
On the first two bills, Stewart said both want a $16 per hour minimum wage starting in 2024. In 2019, the state passed a minimum wage increase that started at $9 per hour and capped out at $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2023.
“A $16-hour minimum wage would make New Mexico one of the top five highest paying states in the country,” Stewart said. “Most of our industry pays more than minimum wage, but we always must increase the current staff any time there is an increase in minimum wage.
“With that large of increase in pay, I’m sure all businesses would have to re-evaluate the business model.”
This would mean looking at more self-checkout options and hiring fewer people, which is “not good for the state,” he said. “Independent grocers care very much for their employees and will do everything they can to employ as many people in their communities as possible. Businesses understand the pressure of increased wages and hope to be a part of the legislative discussion.”
The proposed bill to increase state taxes on liquor would mean a rise in the retail prices on all alcoholic beverages, Stewart said. “If it passes, it is a big price increase to the consumer.”
He said with the current inflation rate and possible recession, this is “not a good time to put more pressure on businesses and consumers by raising taxes and wages. It is just real simple economics.”
As an independent grocer, Stewart said he realizes – now more than ever – the importance of his relationships with employees and suppliers. “We all must work as a team to be able to have a successful business.”