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Rural areas worry about grocery chain merger

Say residents will be hurt if Fry’s and Safeway allowed to merge
Posted at 7:32 PM, Aug 23, 2023

BENSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Rural opposition is coming together to a proposal to merge the Fry’s and Safeway grocery chains. The plan would have a nationwide impact because grocery brands in many states are part of the parent companies Kroger and Albertsons/Safeway.

People in small towns and rural areas are especially concerned about what the plan could mean for them.

In a small town like Benson you might only have a few places to go shopping for groceries. That’s raising some concerns about what could happen if Safeway and Fry’s are allowed to merge.

John Rogers drove his ‘49 Dodge to the Safeway in Benson. He says Walmart is the only other grocery in Benson. He’d like to learn what it would mean for Safeway if Safeway’s parent company is approved to merge with the company behind Fry’s.---and if that means the Benson Safeway might close.

He says, “I doubt it. I doubt it would close, because they still get pretty good. You know, they get a lot of people coming here.”

KGUN reporter Craig Smith asked: “It's a busy store, right? “

“Yeah. And it's a good store. There's good people, real good people that have worked there a long time. A lot of them, I've known for 20 plus years.”

Skeptics about the merger say if it does close stores, people in Cochise County could have some long drives to get their groceries.

Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa says with one Safeway and one Fry's half of his city could become a food desert if the stores consolidate and one closes. He’s afraid of reduced competition, higher prices, and reduced access to other critical services like pharmacies.

“Matter of fact, I was talking to Mayor Huish down in Douglas, they don't have a Safeway. Their constituents have to drive to Safeway in Bisbee to get their medicine. If that store were closed those constituents as well as Bisbee will have to travel to Sierra Vista to get their meds.”

A loss of grocery stores has hit Douglas already. Last year Food City shut down. That left Douglas with a Walmart as its only large grocery.

Douglas Mayor Donald Huish says that costs people in his town time,trouble and money.

“It affects those people that just want to get off of work, get something to prepare for dinner. And it's very difficult for them selection wise. I had a gentleman the other day who happened to be working on my air conditioning unit at the house and he said I couldn't find a head of lettuce in town. And so he went across the border to Mexico because he didn't want to take a long trip up to Bisbee.”

Congressman Ruben Gallego is teaming up with rural mayors to send a letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging the FTC to reject the merger.

At the Safeway in Benson, Nancy Patterson says she is already feeling the cost of driving in from near Saint David.

“Yeah, and gas prices are really high. She laughed as she said, “And Minnie Pearl (her large SUV) takes a lot of gas.”

Congressman Gallego says the merger could hurt small town businesses too, if customers drive out of town for their groceries and decide to do other shopping there too.

Kroger is the company leading this merger effort. Responding to the latest concerns Kroger sent this:

“Kroger joining with Albertsons will mean lower prices and more choices for more customers in more communities, higher wages and more industry-leading benefits for associates, and growing union jobs. The only parties who would benefit if this merger is not completed are large, non-unionized competitors such as Walmart and Amazon.”