As the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for an expansion of a boycott of Kroger stores yesterday over charges that it has created food deserts in minority communities, the largest supermarket chain in the country said that it wants to add 11,000 workers to improve customer service and efficiency at its existing operations. About 2,000 of those jobs would be managerial.
“Kroger is a place where you can come for a job and stay for a career,” Tim Massa, Kroger's group vice president of human resources and labor relations, says in a release announcing the initiative. The company also asserts it is “committed to invest a significant portion of the tax benefit it received from the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in associates’ future.” It will reveal the details of its plan to do so later this month.
Jackson, meanwhile, showed up in Krogers’ headquarters city, Cincinnati, and told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Alexander Coolidge he wants to “expand” the boycott he has led in picketing against stores in Georgia and Kroger-owned Fred Meyer stores in the West.
“Jackson chided Kroger for building upscale stores in suburbs at the same time it is pulling the plug on others. He also criticized Kroger for sometimes preserving market share by not relinquishing closed stores,” Coolidge writes.
“Look at the attention suburban stores are getting … with wine and services,” Jackson said. “[These closed stores] … someone could make these profitable.”
“If Kroger gonna leave us, we’re gonna leave Kroger. It’s boycott time,” Jackson said on Memphis TV station WREG yesterday, Noah Feit reports for the Columbia, S.C., The State.
The chain, which operates 2,800 retail food stores under a variety of banner names across the country, permanently closed 41 stores last year.
“Jackson called for the protest last week over Kroger's closure of three stores in black neighborhoods in Memphis in February and other stores serving minority communities such as Walnut Hills in Cincinnati. He is seeking to meet with Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen to discuss urban store closures,” UPI’s Sommer Brokaw reports.
Meanwhile, “at a time when some chains might be trying to cut costs, supermarket giant Kroger is doubling down, making plans to hire about 11,000 supermarket workers even as it faces heated competition from Walmart to Amazon,” writes Charisse Jones for USA Today. “It's the latest wave of hires for the grocery chain, which has created 22,000 positions in the past two years.”
Indeed, Krogers’ Massa claims it has added 100,000 jobs over the last decade.
Kroger defended the store closures in a statement late Monday, Alexander Coolidge and Sharon Coolidge report for USA Today. “Because we operate a ‘penny profit’ business, we must sometimes make tough decisions in order to keep our prices low for all customers,” it said in a statement.
Kroger officials met with Jackson Tuesday “but were hesitant to speak about the meeting,” pointing out that no jobs were lost after the recent closures and pledging to stay “an active community citizen” that is “always open to suggestions and dialogue,” according the USA Today report.
“‘The core issue in food retail remains the high degree of bottom-line uncertainty,’ analysts at Morgan Stanley wrote to investors recently,” Heather Haddon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
“Food retailers are also competing for workers in the tightest U.S. labor market in nearly two decades. The unemployment rate held at 4.1% on Friday for the sixth straight month, a 17-year low. Job openings are at a record high,” she continues.
“Kroger has been trying to transform its company as the industry undergoes massive changes, pressured by Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods and changing consumer preferences. Several grocers, including Walmart, have realigned its workforce and resources to readjust to the need to focus more digital efforts, including delivery options,” Lauren Hirsch writes for CNBC.com.
“One Kroger effort is the roll-out of ‘Scan, Bag and Go,’ a platform that allows shoppers to bypass a traditional cashier in paying for items, to 400 locations by the end of this year.”
But they’ll be hard put to replace humans with a platform that tells you where they’re hiding the wasabi sauce. Yet.