Attorney General Gets Hit With Barrage of Concerns During Town Hall Meeting
Shoppers and families across the country have raised concerns for months regarding the pending merger of two grocery store giant corporations, Albertsons and Kroger, and the problems it could create for consumers and employees.
The issue has strong local impacts, since two of the main grocery stores in Woodland Park, Safeway and City Market, would be owned by the same company if the merger occurs. As a result, fears are mounting that Woodland Park and Teller County could lose one of these prime grocery store chains. A number of local business leaders, and many consumers and employees in the region, believe this could serve as a serious economic blow to the area.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has partaken in a detailed “listening session” throughout the state, visiting many local communities to receive more input. Last Wednesday, Weiser held a town hall-style meeting at the Woodland Park Library in order to get feedback on the local effects of the merger. He made a similar visit to Colorado Springs on Wednesday evening.
The merger is slated to take place, unless a state or federal government files a lawsuit to fight the acquisition. Weiser said that he will make the decision on whether to take legal action, after hearing feedback from shoppers, workers, and suppliers.
A resolution on this issue is not expected to be announced until later this year or in early 2024.
Last year, it was announced that Kroger (who owns King Soopers and City Market) seeks to acquire Albertsons (who owns Safeway) for more than $24 billion. Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice gave the two companies a set of guidelines that had to be met for the business acquisition to go through legally.
The guidelines mainly stated that the merger could not create a monopoly on the grocery store market. The CEOs of both companies said that creating a monopoly would not be an issue.
However, people who attended the town hall meeting with the attorney general locally staunchly disagreed with this opinion, and raised big concerns about the effects it could have on the community. To start the meeting in Woodland Park, Weiser brought up several possible issues that could become a reality if the merger took place.
He said that in Woodland Park the amount of grocery shopping options could go from three (Walmart, Safeway, and City Market) to just two. He said that he wanted to see if the merger would cause a “food desert” in the community or “less resilience because the community would lose to separate supply chains.”
Store Closures Worry Consumers and Employees
Store closures emerged as a definite issue that was brought up by both Weiser and members of the community. “The last merger they did was Safeway and Albertsons,” the state attorney general said. “And I heard that some of the stores in that merger ended up closing and they have closed since then. And the concern I have here is that they think they have a remedy, but how do they know it’s going to work?”
One resident said that if the merger took place either Safeway or City Market would probably close down. And if this occurs, residents and local merchants fear it would hurt all of the other businesses in the impacted shopping center since traffic would greatly be reduced.
Another meeting attendee voiced concerns about the fact that the two major distributors for Albertsons and Kroger, (DPI and KeHE), were also planning on merging together. She said that there could be major implications if the stores and distributors for the two grocery outlets both merged.
Laurie Glauth, the owner of Mountain Naturals in Woodland Park, said the merger could hurt small businesses including stores and suppliers if there are less choices. She said that big corporations who serve as suppliers hurt small producers by controlling prices in the market.
“If merger like this goes through, it will only get worse from the fields all the way through for our choices, for the competition and for the pricing,” Glauth said.
Carl Andersen, owner of Andersen Enterprises, (who also is a former county commissioner and U.S. congressional seat candidate), said that the residual effect on small businesses, if one anchor grocery store closed, would be much worse in smaller communities than in cities on the Front Range. “If we lose one anchor store, that’s a major loss,” Andersen said. “If we lose one store, the other one is not going to hire all of those people. We will lose valuable jobs on that end. We need a free market place, but we need competition too.”
Weiser said he must decide if the merger would violate the state’s anti-trust laws. In addition, he cited an opportunity for the two corporations to remedy the concerns voiced by local residents and shoppers and by store employees. The latter group is also quite concerned about the merger. They made many points opposing the merger during the evening meeting in Colorado Springs.
“If in this merger there is a remedy I believe will work, then I am open to a settlement,” Weiser explained. “If they convince me that this really doesn’t hurt competition based on all the evidence then I won’t bring a lawsuit. But, if I believe this merger harms competition, harms consumers and workers, and there is no settlement that addresses those harms, then I will bring a case. We are not afraid to bring cases.”
He also said that he might decide to file a lawsuit, whether or not the federal government or other states opt for taking this action. During his reign as the state’s attorney general, Weiser hasn’t been shy about filing lawsuits.