I spoke with NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara after the association’s fly-in event.
OPINION: AHEAD OF WHAT'S NEXT
This past June 8, I found myself traversing the corridors of power. This was not on my own account, but rather to observe the National Grocers Association’s (NGA) Fly-In for Fair Competition in action. The event involved independent grocers meeting with congresspeople and their staffs on Capitol Hill to urge enforcement of the Robinson-Patman Act, an antitrust law passed way back in 1936, to give indies a level playing field when it comes to competing against the big guys.
Following a breakfast keynote address on antitrust issues by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., I tagged along with various contingents of independent grocers as they met with several U.S. representatives, listening in as these small-business owners described the difficulties of operating in the present economic climate — inflation, supply chain snarls and the pandemic are making things difficult for everybody — as well as trying to keep pace with much larger rivals that are able not only to undercut indies on prices, but also dominate access to supply and shut out smaller operators from certain products. This is a particularly critical issue in areas where the independent operates the only grocery store in an underserved urban or rural area that would otherwise be a food desert.
The stories told by grocers were heartfelt, and the congresspeople and aides they visited in their offices listened respectfully and asked on-point questions. These were, in most cases, their constituents, after all, with the power to potentially vote them out of office, but beyond that, I saw a real interest on the part of lawmakers and their staffs in trying to understand the pain points of local grocers — more than I expected, frankly.
NGA’s Fly-In for Fair Competition enabled independent grocery retailers and wholesalers to meet with members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
According to Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NGA, whom I spoke with later that day, the fly-in event, which this year included 100-plus meetings, “lays the groundwork for our teams now to spend the next weeks and months going back and following up with the offices, fulfilling commitments, getting them more information and then connecting back.”
As for the decision to focus this year on antitrust as the main issue affecting independents, Ferrara explained: “We’ve discovered doing smaller or targeted events, or focused on one issue ... is the most effective right now today for what we do.” As an example of how well this approach works, he noted that in every one of the 10 or so meetings he had taken part in that day, “we got commitments to sign on to” the Promotion of Small Business Competition Act, which would give the Small Business Administration the ability to study and report on the extent to which antitrust enforcement protects competition by small businesses — not just grocers.
Having its finger on the pulse of what’s most important to independent grocery retailers and wholesalers is how NGA is able to serve them so ably.
“We’re a member organization,” Ferrara emphasized. “It’s why we exist and why we do what we do for our members. That’s why we knew that this was the issue. This was the time to do it. And the feedback that I’ve heard so far today is overwhelming success.”