New Hampshire ended the halfway point of the 2023 fiscal year $200 million ahead of estimates and $40 million more than the previous year.
According to Kevin Daigle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, Gov. Chris Sununu recently unveiled his proposed budget that will look to continue cutting and/or eliminating taxes and streamlining government by eliminating outdated licenses and regulatory boards.
In the 2023 legislative session, the NHGA is supporting a bill that involves licensing fees for retailers to sell keno.
“Last year, legislation allowed grocers to sell keno in towns where it was approved to sell,” Daigle said. “Working in partnership with our lottery commission, we are supporting a bill that would waive the annual cost of the keno license for retailers.”
Another bill that has NHGA’s support – and that of the business community – is a bill to reduce the Business Enterprise Tax, Daigle said. “Previous reductions in the tax have proved beneficial to the business community while still adding to the state’s surplus.”
He said the association is continuing to monitor bills that center around Extended Producer Responsibility, and it continues to seek a seat at the table so that its concerns can be heard if, and when, EPR is considered in New Hampshire.
There are bills NHGA is opposing, specifically a few that deal with minimum wage increases.
“Our opposition centers around mandating what private business should be paying their employees versus letting the free market dictate the wages,” Daigle explained. “Our concern is by forcing a minimum from the federal level, a laddering effect will occur where employees currently above the minimum would want similar increases in their wages as well.”
A bill the association is actively involved with – and opposed to – would allow municipalities to regulate the distribution and disposal of plastic bags.
“As we’ve testified, the bill itself is not so much a bill about a ban on plastic bags, as it is a bill allowing for ‘home rule’ in New Hampshire. Currently, we are lucky that we don’t have a patchwork of regulations from town to town like some of our neighboring states.”
Daigle said that, like surrounding states, New Hampshire has “many a bill” centered around PFAS. These are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. Because they don’t break down easily, they often are called “forever chemicals.”
“We are asking our legislators to work toward a federal regulation versus a state-by-state web of PFAS regulations that we would need to navigate.”
Other bills of concern that NHGA opposes include those looking to increase the tobacco tax, and a measure that would ban service technicians from working on weighing or measuring devices owned by their employer, Daigle said.
Members try to hold pricing
Daigle said the grocery industry continues to face rising costs across the board for products and the costs of doing business. These include increased rates for electricity and natural gas, healthcare, transportation and wages.
“Our members do their best to hold their pricing for [products] as long as they can, but ultimately they need to pass along those rising costs,” he said. “To help with the sting of increases, we’ve seen many of our members increase their private-label offerings to help offset the higher costs of goods and have become creative in showcasing how products can be paired together for do-it-yourself meal kits.”
Labor issues remain an issue, with many stores having to adjust their operating schedules for the lack of coverage and to avoid employee burnout, Daigle said. Creative scheduling and additional employment benefits are ways employers are attempting to keep their workforce while trying to attract new employees.
And the New Hampshire grocery industry is not immune to the inflationary affects happening across the country.
“We’ve seen increased costs in energy, costs of goods and supplies, as well as the cost of the products we sell to our customers,” Daigle said. “Again, our members do our best to keep pricing as steady as possible before having to increase the customer’s costs. Our retailers are resilient and continue to look for creative ways to continue offering the quality service and products they are known for.”
Daigle noted the frustration for retailers when customers think they are raising costs “to pad their profit margins.”
“If they only knew that our profit margins are very low single digits, and that we are just the last in the chain of supply and that grocers are doing their best to limit the increased costs to the customer.”
Education key for association
The NHGA has been working over the last six to nine months on a partnership to offer its members reduced pricing on their electric and natural gas usage. In early August, the state saw a spike in the standard utility pricing for both, increasing by as much as 10 to 20 cents per kw or therm, Daigle said.
“Luckily, our members were able to connect with our energy partner and lock in fixed pricing far below the standard utility rate, saving members hundreds to thousands of dollars each month. A few of our members have been able to stay open because of this switch to a much lower fixed pricing on their utility bill.”
Daigle said the NHGA will continue to offer workshops and access to industry experts for its members to assist with labor issues.
Also, its annual Government Day is scheduled for April 25 in Concord. Daigle said it will be the first live version since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Our members enjoy the interaction with legislative and regulatory leaders and getting to see their association in action, advocating on their behalf.
“New Hampshire’s grocery industry continues to be strong, and we work hard to educate our legislature about continuing to be a business-friendly environment for our industry, in addition to the benefits of cross-border sales benefitting members and as well as the state.”
For more information about the New Hampshire association, visit grocers.org.
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