As the devastation grows in Hurricane Katrina's wake, grocers in the South and beyond do their best to cope, and to help. Here are some of the latest developments.

Most Alabama Grocers Up and Running, Says State Trade Group

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. -- Alabama food retailers were largely spared from Hurricane Katrina's wrath on Monday, and most of the state's supermarkets are "back to 90 percent normal," Jim Smotherman, president of the Alabama Grocers Association (AGA) here, told Progressive Grocer yesterday. He noted that many of the state's wholesalers and retailers are now focusing their efforts on getting food to refugees.

"I talked to one independent this morning, and he said four of his six stores are up and running," Smotherman said. "As of this afternoon, Bruno's -- one of our largest members -- had only three stores that were still using generators for power, and all their stores were open except for one in Bayou La Batre, a coastal area that was particularly hard hit." Of the stores that are closed or have been temporarily closed, there have been no reports of looting, he added.

Some of the AGA's members, including Wal-Mart, also have stores in the affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, Smotherman noted. Those stores remain closed, and in some instances have fallen prey to looting. One truck driver who had been in Biloxi told Smotherman the area looked "like a bomb had hit it."

Meanwhile, as thousands of refugees continue to flee from the ravaged coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, Alabama retailers are serving a slew of new, hungry customers. WIC officials have worked out an arrangement whereby people with WIC certificates can use their certificates issued in other states in Alabama stores, Smotherman noted. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is discussing a plan that would authorize the purchase of hot foods with food stamps.

"Our wholesalers are cooperating extremely well," Smotherman said. "One even delivered food for another wholesaler's customer. We're beyond the competitive stage -- the priority now is getting people fed."

One challenge Alabama food companies are facing is getting enough dry ice, he noted. "There are still areas with no refrigeration, and people have been trying to pack everything with dry ice."

A long-term concern will be the price of diesel fuel, he added. "For a wholesaler that serves 300-400 supermarkets, an increase of five cents a gallon for diesel fuel would cost about $30,000 a year."

More Supermarkets Join Relief Effort

CINCINNATI, SALISBURY, N.C., LAKELAND, Fla., and RICHMOND, Va. -- The Kroger Co., Food Lion, Publix Super Markets, and Ukrop's Super Markets yesterday joined the growing number of supermarket operators large and small that have agreed to accept donations from customers to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. The outpouring signifies the industry's willingness to step up in times of desperate need.

Beginning this week, customer donations will be accepted throughout September at all of Kroger's 3,300-plus supermarkets, multi-department stores, and convenience stores. All monies collected will be forwarded directly to the American Red Cross for relief efforts tied to Hurricane Katrina.

Kroger also said it will offer its 289,000 associates a convenient way to help; the company's foundations (The Kroger Co. Foundation, Ralphs/Food 4 Less Foundation, and The Fred Meyer Foundation) will match donations from company associates up to a total of $300,000.

All 1,220 Food Lion stores will give customers the opportunity to support American Red Cross hurricane relief efforts, beginning today. Customers can make donations at the checkout register in any amount they choose. The donations will appear on their grocery receipts for tax records.

In-store Red Cross posters will inform and remind customers of the campaign, which runs through Sept. 24.

In addition, Food Lion and its employees are pooling resources to send a truckload of bottled drinking water to the Gulf Coast, the epicenter of damage from Katrina. Food Lion employees and the company are contributing money to purchase the drinking water, and the chain then will transport the water to an area in need, using a company tractor-trailer.

For its part, Publix has established a program to offer its customers and associates a way to directly help those areas affected by Katrina and other hurricanes throughout this hurricane season. Customers may donate any amount they choose by adding it to their grocery totals when checking out at Publix registers chainwide. All of the money collected will support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Meanwhile, Ukrops and First Market Bank, the chain's affiliated bank operator, are accepting donations to support American Red Cross Katrina Relief. The companies will match the first $25,000 donated by customers.

Ukrop's and First Market Bank have also partnered with a Richmond television station, WRIC, to collect bottled water, cleaning supplies, baby formula, baby wipes, diapers, paper products, and personal hygiene items at several stores.

FMI Posts Disaster Management Info Online

WASHINGTON -- The Food Marketing Institute has posted disaster management information on its Web site, including links to reputable charities that companies may choose as partners, information on dealing with a disaster, and guides to keeping food safe.

The information can be accessed at: http://www.fmi.org/foodsafety/disaster_management.htm

Food for All Offers to Collaborate on Retailers' Aid Efforts

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Food for All, a program of the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger that operates point-of-purchase fundraisers in more than 8,000 grocery retailers nationwide, said yesterday it is ready to assist food industry retailers with disaster relief fundraising efforts.

Food for All can provide point-of-purchase grocery store materials that offer customers an opportunity to make a donation to help those affected by the catastrophe.

"In the wake of the chaos and destruction caused by this horrible disaster, it is Food for All's immediate goal to provide retailers and their customers with a fundraising effort that will raise money for those who in desperate need of assistance," said Denis Zegar, Food for All president and c.e.o.

Fate of NACS Show in New Orleans Questioned

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is one of the many trade associations that have scheduled conventions this fall in New Orleans, and might have to reconsider their plans. The trade group said in a statement that it is closely monitoring the situation in New Orleans relative to the impact of Hurricane Katrina.

"We are in communication with the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, as well as local hotels," the trade group said. "NACS will continue to monitor the city's recovery, and will update NACS Show participants as soon as relevant and adequate information becomes available from our contacts in New Orleans. Additional updates will be available on the Web at the NACS Show website and at NACS Online (http://www.nacsonline.com). Our thoughts are for the safety and well being of those in the affected areas."
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