Employees of local Shoppers Food Warehouses say the grocery store chain’s parent company isn’t telling them much about their plans for selling stores, which has the union seeking answers.
Shoppers has a new parent company, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), that wants out of the retail business to focus on wholesale.
Regular customers don’t want to see their neighborhood grocery stores close.
“If they close down the Shoppers, where are we supposed to go?” shopper Angela Carter asked.
Workers, some who have worked for Shoppers for 30 years or more, are asking the same question.
“For many people, this job is all they have,” said Mark Federici, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400.
The union represents almost 2,000 Shoppers employees. Most of them work in Prince George's County, Maryland, where there are 12 stores.
Federici said he's frustrated because Shoppers new owners aren't saying much about what's coming and what it will mean for workers.
“They want to know what’s going on, and they’re very frustrated after being kept in the dark all these months,” Federici said.
Prince George’s County is considered a food desert by U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, meaning it lacks healthy fresh food options, so quickly replacing Shoppers is now a major county government focus.
“A lot of these stores that we're talking about, they are in communities where that particular store, that is the main source for the fresh produce and a lot of the healthy food options, so we certainly don't want to lose that,” said John Erzen, deputy chief of staff for County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
UNFI released a statement Tuesday saying there are no plans to close stores.
“Several of the recent media reports have said that Shoppers Food and Pharmacy stores are closing,” the statement said. “We want to clarify that there are no immediate plans for any Shoppers stores to close.
“What we previously communicated was that UNFI plans to thoughtfully and economically divest its retail operations and the company is making progress on that front. As this is an ongoing and fluid process, we don’t have any specific updates or timing to share. When there is something to communicate we will do so. But, most importantly, we want to be clear that UNFI has not announced any plans for store closures.”
Giant has bought some of the closed Shoppers in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Northern Virginia.
Prince George’s County officials say they are confident they can fill the Shoppers locations when they close, but they haven’t said who might be interested in buying them.