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Food Retailers ‘Pivotal’ In Virginia’s Economic Resilience

Melissa Assalone of the Virginia Food Industry Association
Melissa Assalone

Virginia’s economy has shown resilience and improvement compared to last year, according to Melissa Assalone, executive director of the Virginia Food Industry Association. 

“Despite ongoing challenges and a reduction in federal money coming into Virginia, there are positive economic indicators such as job growth and increased consumer spending,” she said.

Assalone noted the grocery sector has played a crucial role in sustaining communities and responding to shifting behaviors.

“The commonwealth adapted well to the changing economic landscape and businesses, including grocery retailers, have … played a pivotal role in contributing to this economic resilience by responding proactively to changing consumer demands and leveraging innovative solutions to ensure sustained growth,” she said.

The grocery industry in Virginia remains “strong and adaptable,” with Assalone adding that consumer demand for fresh and locally sourced products continues to drive growth. Grocers have embraced technology as a way to enhance the shopping experience through implementing online ordering and delivery services.

She also pointed to a trend toward sustainable and organic options, “showcasing the industry’s responsiveness to evolving consumer preferences.”

Many independent grocers in Virginia are implementing innovative strategies to address hurdles such as supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. These measures include strengthening local partnerships, optimizing inventory management systems and offering competitive incentives to attract and retain skilled staff. 

“Collaboration within the industry has been key, as grocers share best practices to address these challenges collectively,” she said.

Inflation has affected operational costs and pricing dynamics for Virginia’s independent retailers. While recent reports indicate an improvement, Assalone said the impact may linger.

“Grocers are closely monitoring pricing strategies and exploring cost-effective sourcing solutions. In Virginia, we are seeing a decrease in the inflation rate.” 

Another national issue with an impact on local grocers is organized retail crime. Assalone described it as a significant challenge.

“The grocery industry is not immune to the impact of theft, and it has been an ongoing concern for many retailers. These criminal activities not only result in financial losses but also pose operational challenges and can compromise the safety of both customers and employees,” she said. 

“During the last legislative session, Virginia legislators passed House Bill 1885 and Senate Bill 1396 to address organized retail crime. Attorney General Jason Miyares has been a leader in this space and convened impacted stakeholders to find solutions to this issue.”

Grocers are implementing a multi-faceted approach to address this issue, she said. This includes investing in advanced surveillance technologies, implementing robust security protocols and enhancing employee training to detect and prevent theft. 

“Collaborative efforts with local law enforcement and partnerships with industry associations are also common strategies to combat organized retail crime,” Assalone said.

“While the challenge persists, grocers in Virginia are committed to adopting innovative solutions and best practices to minimize the impact of organized retail crime and retail theft on their operations, ensuring a safer and more secure shopping environment.”

The Virginia Food Industry Association provides many resources to grocers throughout the commonwealth. It continues to advocate for policies to improve the organized retail crime issues and is engaged in efforts finding solutions led by the attorney general. 

“VFIA is the voice of Virginia’s grocery industry, providing advocacy and representation, networking, up-to-date information and research, emergency operations support and government relations,” Assalone said.

In addition to the retail crime-related legislation, the VFIA worked on many alcohol-related bills in 2023 and mitigated the impacts on retailers of legislation regarding new crossover alcohol products. The association also worked on measures concerning pharmacy and energy policies.

“The Virginia General Assembly begins in January 2024, and VFIA will be again leading the charge to protect and advocate for the interests of the grocery industry,” Assalone said.

Looking forward, she noted that while it tends to outperform the nation economically, the commonwealth is monitoring several economic headwinds, including a potential government shutdown and slowing revenues.

In November, elections for the legislature resulted in a shift to full control by Democrats.

“VFIA remains optimistic that with the support and focus of the current governor’s administration, the business community will continue to thrive in Virginia,” Assalone said.

Read more association news from The Shelby Report.

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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