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Fight is On in ND to Keep Rural Grocery Stores Open

In addition to competition and cost issues, rural grocers in North Dakota say lack of access to financial resources are making it harder for them to stay open. (Adobe Stock)
In addition to competition and cost issues, rural grocers in North Dakota say lack of access to financial resources are making it harder for them to stay open. (Adobe Stock)
February 13, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Several groups are trying to shine a light on what they call a big problem in North Dakota -- the disappearance of independent grocery stores in small towns.

A new program called the Rural Grocery Initiative is aimed at keeping these stores open.

According to the Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, there are only 98 full service grocery stores in North Dakota communities with less than 2,100 people.

That's why the association is working with groups such as the North Dakota Farmers Union on solutions through this initiative.

Jason McKenney, the union's cooperative and transportation director, says people living in these towns need a good range of food options.

"We need to have food in these communities to help people stay in their homes longer and to have another access to food, quality, healthy food," he stresses.

Those involved with the effort say declining farming populations are a contributing factor. They also cite larger chains in bigger communities attracting customers away, along with a distribution system that makes it harder for smaller stores to keep their prices down.

McKenney says the distribution system is the biggest hurdle he sees when looking at why these stores are struggling.

"We just have a lot of trucks running across North Dakota that are not full, or they're making five different stops and not dropping enough hardly to make the stops," he explains.

While officials who oversee the program say they're still trying to map out a range of solutions, they say one plan they're trying out is to get these grocers to buy their products collectively so that prices might come down for them.

Disclosure: North Dakota Farmers Union contributes to our fund for reporting on Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND