National Grocers Association (NGA) member RF Buche, a fourth-generation grocer and president of South Dakota-based GF Buche Co., testified as part of a roundtable, “Ending Hunger in America: Food Insecurity in Rural America,” on Dec. 8 before the House Rules Committee. In his testimony, Buche spoke of his company’s efforts to assuage food insecurity.
As well as opening grocery stores in communities without access to fresh food items, the retailer fills a travel trailer with healthy foods and essential products for areas where transportation isn’t readily available for many. The company is also working with a nonprofit organization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to get a semi-truck and trailer with both frozen and cold storage. “On a consistent basis, this would be used for food and essential item distribution in food deserts in the districts [small communities within the reservation] without grocery stores,” noted Buche.
In a similar vein, the grocer keeps food lockers in areas with limited access to grocery products. The company received a grant to bring temperature-controlled food locker units to Marty, S.D., a town 16 miles from the nearest grocery store and where many residents have no way to travel to it. Residents can order groceries online from the locker units or a smart device using SNAP, debit or credit. A cold-storage delivery truck then transports groceries and deposits them in the lockers. Residents use a code provided to them after ordering to get their groceries from the unit.
Another effort undertaken by the company is its ongoing campaign, Team Buche Cares, to feed the hungry and provide assistance to those in the local community. “Our goal is to provide food and essential items for those in need in times of a gap in benefits,” said Buche in his testimony.
He went on to speak about the challenges independent operators face with regard to the procurement of high-demand products and the issue of keeping independents, especially those in rural and low-access communities, open and competitive when larger retailers can demand lower prices, priority access and exclusive package sizes from suppliers.
“We appreciate Chairman McGovern and the House Rules Committee’s efforts to shine a light on the pressing issue of food insecurity that afflicts too many in our nation,” said Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NGA, the national trade association representing the retail and wholesale community grocers comprising the independent sector of the food distribution industry. “Giving our member, RF Buche, the opportunity to highlight the work his company is doing to address food access and hunger in the South Dakota communities they operate exemplifies the outsized impact that independent grocers have on making sure rural Americans are fed.”
Separately, NGA detailed its major antitrust concerns in a statement for the recordsubmitted to the committee for the roundtable. The statement discusses how the actions of big-box retailers and “power buyers” are adversely affecting food access for rural communities and making it difficult for independent grocers to compete. “While shortages and limited availability of critical inputs and food supplies affects everyone, the impact of these shortages are felt disproportionately by independent grocers and the rural communities they serve,” the statement notes, urging the enforcement of antitrust laws.
GF Buche Co. owns and operates grocery, convenience, fast-food, hardware and auto parts stores in 20 locations across 11 South Dakota communities. The only South Dakota independent grocer approved to accept SNAP benefits online, the company is currently participating in the beta test for WIC online. The grocer, which has been in business since 1905, employs about 400 employees and is planning for further growth.