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Who Owns Your Grocery Store?

There are currently more than 230 food co-ops operating in the United States. (Adobe Stock)  There are currently more than 230 food co-ops operating in the United States. (Adobe Stock)
There are currently more than 230 food co-ops operating in the United States. (Adobe Stock) There are currently more than 230 food co-ops operating in the United States. (Adobe Stock)
March 12, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Local grocery store chains are rapidly disappearing across the country, either bought up by large corporations or squeezed out of business by retailers such as Walmart, Target and Amazon.

Some critics say that's a problem for local food producers, other local businesses and workers.

Jon Steinman, author of "Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants," says most people are in the dark about who owns their local supermarket, and how that affects their local farmers.

"When food producers have to start dealing with and negotiating with companies with distant head offices, the retailer starts to gain more and more power, and less and less interest in the future of those food producers," he states.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2016, the top four food retailers were Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and Ahold Delhaize, a Netherlands-based company that owns Food Lion and Giant stores.

Steinman has seen more communities turning toward food cooperatives, which operate just like traditional grocery stores, except customers can become member-owners, with a say in how the business is run and where produce and products are sourced.

"Many of the grocery stores are starting to close up shop," he points out. "Often it's because of retirement. In some cases simply not being able to complete with the growing size of the bigger chains.

"And so, more and more communities in rural areas are starting to look to this cooperative model as a way to either save a grocery store that might be about to close, or to actually start a new one."

One study by the National Cooperative Growers Association found that food co-ops work with an average of 157 local farmers and producers, and purchase 20% of the products they stock from local sources, compared to conventional stores, which average 65 local producers and 6% of products from local sources.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY