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Washington state’s independent grocers want regulatory relief in 2024

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(The Center Square) – Hoping your grocery bill goes down in 2024?

So are independent grocery store operators, many of whom are finding if difficult to say afloat, claiming inflation and state regulations are making it harder to pay employees and turn a profit.

“We are challenged to get that item to our stores, especially in our rural communities,” said Tammie Hetrick, CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association, a statewide trade association representing independent grocers and convenience stores. “We’re not paying the same price point as the big guys; we’re paying a lot more because we go through more channels to get to the end consumer.”

She added, “The independent grocery market has about a 1% profit margin, and in some rural areas they are lucky if it’s a 1% profit margin.”

Consumers might not understand that, Hetrick said.

“The store isn’t just paying more for the product than the big guys [Walmart, Kroger] do,” she said. “It’s also having to be shipped in and the cost of getting food to the consumer with environmental issues and fueling issues – it all impacts the cost.”

“We want to make sure at the end of the day people can afford to have food on their table,” Hetrick stressed.

One of the biggest issues for retail establishments, including grocery stores, is theft and related crime.

“With our convenience stores and grocery stores, it’s a big concern,” Hetrick said. “We’re working with the [Attorney General’s] Office and everyone to ensure that support is getting to the cities and counties who need it.”

A lot of convenience stores have closed, Hetrick noted, because it’s not worth the cost of business when a store is repeatedly broken into and employees are threatened.

So, what can be done to restore civility and bring food prices down?

At least for WFIA, the upcoming legislative session means a narrow focus on a few priorities: protecting workers and customers, and less regulation.

“Ensuring the safety of employees with crime so out of control is the biggest issue,” Hetrick said. “We want everyone going home at the end of the day and for our customers to feel safe in the store, otherwise the stores can’t stay open.”

She added that scaling back regulations would also help keep independent grocers healthy in the Evergreen State, where grocery prices increased 5.1% year over year, according to a ConsumerAffairs analysis of price data in November.

“Can we do what we need to do and not negatively impact everyone?” Hetrick asked.

In considering legislation related to independent grocers, she advises lawmakers ask themselves that question.

“What is this going to do to the price of food?” she reiterated. “I mean they don’t think about how the cost of fuel is going to impact food prices, but we’re seeing it, people are living it.”

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