Grocery wars


 “I could care less about a pretty store, employee wages, or any of the other complaints posted here,” wrote a Pioneer Press reader. New entrants in the metro grocery scene are banking on lots of people not caring about employee wages, as non-union WalMart, Target and Aldi’s muscle in on territory previously dominated by unionized Rainbow, Cub and Lunds grocery chains, reports the Pioneer Press. (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are also non-union stores.)

“Pretty stores” may be debatable – I’ve never seen anything particularly ornate in either Cub or Rainbow – but the PiPress article says the three giant competitors offer lower prices. I haven’t shopped at Aldis or WalMart, but on my few forays to Target, their grocery prices seemed higher than Cub or Rainbow. Since the Pioneer Press article didn’t cite any statistics on comparative prices, it’s hard to tell how much of the low-price rep of WalMart and Target is advertising and how much is reality. The TC Daily Planet grocery bag survey last spring found:

Lunds and Target were the most expensive stores for regular products, within a few cents of each other. Cub was the third most expensive store for regular products. Rainbow and Wal-Mart were quite a bit less expensive and ALDI was the least expensive, with the same bag of groceries costing almost $10 dollars less at ALDI than at Lunds and Target.

Today, with the price war in full swing, loss leaders are used by stores to tout their low prices, along with extensive advertising and coupon deals for gasoline discounts.

The casualties in the war may be the workers on the front lines. Unionized workers at Cub, Rainbow, Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s and Festival earn vacation pay, health insurance and a pension.

“These are contracts that have been built up since the ’40s,” said Hesse, the Twin Cities union official, who praised hometown supermarkets here as “honorable operators.” …

At unionized stores, the workweek is 40 hours. At Trader Joe’s, leaders work a 47.5-hour week, its Web site says.

At unionized grocers, the pay scale for a veteran cashier can reach $22 an hour….

A wage sheet from Target’s West St. Paul store, provided by the union, shows that half the work force there earned about $8 an hour. Only one-fourth of its workers earned more than $10.60 an hour, the full-time equivalent of $22,000 a year…. the federal poverty level for a family of four.