Do you shop at a Kroger supermarket? Or maybe at Foods Co, Food 4 Less, King Soopers, City Market or… well, never mind, all of these and more are part of the vast Kroger fiefdom of 2,759 grocery stores spanning the U.S. It also owns 38 food processing plants, 44 distribution centers, 1,556 gas stations and 251 jewelry stores. In short, Kroger is big – the country’s largest grocery chain. The Cincinnati-based retail conglomerate sacks up revenues topping $121 billion a year.
Yet, for all of its mass and money, Kroger has recently shown itself to be pathetically small in many of the communities it supposedly serves and profits from.
The chain’s carefully crafted PR image portrays it as “America’s Grocer” – wherever you are, they present their stores as your friendly neighbor, supporting all things that make your community unique and vibrant. So imagine the surprise of thousands of shoppers, local businesses, community groups and other real neighbors when the giant’s aloof executives in faraway corporate headquarters arbitrarily ejected a core element of vibrancy for many cities: the myriad of alternative newsweeklies and community papers that are distributed in the stores free of charge. (Lest you think that poor Kroger shouldn’t be burdened with offering free papers, it gets paid by a distribution firm to carry them.)
In one blow, top honchos in Cincinnati summarily kicked all such local journalism out of their stores in Colorado Springs, Louisville, Omaha, Salt Lake City and hundreds of other cities in 35 states. While establishment newspapers that peddle the corporate line – from hedge fund-owned dailies to the Wall Street Journal – are still allowed to peddle their papers inside Kroger, customers can no longer find racks of free community papers that cover a wide diversity of local stories.
By shutting out these community papers, Kroger is literally banning the free press from its stores. That’s not only unneighborly – it’s un-American.
Cluelessly, Kroger execs seemed to assume no one would notice their sweeping purge, but when a firestorm of local protests (under such banners as #DontLoseLocalNews) reached all the way to the executive suite in Ohio, a PR flack was rushed out to explain who was responsible for banishing the papers: The papers themselves! They failed to keep up with the digital age, she asserted, so shoppers are no longer picking up the free papers.
WRONG. While it’s true that chain-owned daily newspapers are losing readers after shriveling their coverage and jacking up their prices, free local independent weeklies have become more valued than ever by folks looking to fill their towns’ print-news gap.
A group of indy papers has launched a national campaign to call out Kroger’s executives. Call toll-free to 1-800-KROGERS (576-4377), then press 3 for “store experience” and to speak to a Kroger manager – and demand that they restore the free press to all of their stores.
JIM HIGHTOWER is a radio commentator, writer, public speaker and New York Times best-selling author.