Friday, December 10, 2010

Really Safeway, Right Next to Times!?

In January, when the national grocery mega-chain, Safeway, revealed that it would construct an excessive, large-scale supermarket directly adjacent to the Beretania Times Supermarket, my instincts instructed me to immediately get hold of my contact lists, organize a coalition of sign waivers and outspoken protesters, get the local media on my side, and kill this behemoth before it even gets off the ground.

But I restrained myself and vowed not to take action at least until I was able to adequately research the economic/community implications of such a project.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The $65 million, 61,000 sqaure foot mega-store is just about shovel-ready."][/caption]

As a localvore-in-training, I have dictated a personal regimine to buy local whenever possible, and have been shopping exclusively at Foodland and Times for my supermarket needs (you can't always make it out to farmer's markets, and it's always nice to support local businesses) for the past couple of years.

1) Local supermarkets have a greater communitarian value: they foster personal and business relations between local growers and packages, wholesalers, retailers etc; and they are not subject to corporate regulations and customer-service standards that may not necessarily be accustomed or compatible with the Kama'aina way of life.

2) Local supermarkets have a greater economic value: they buy a greater proportion of local produce to their total stock as does their mainland counterpart; and consumers' money spent in local supermarkets have a much greater chance of being spent and circulated within the local economy.

Above all else, I just feel as though both the service and the products I receive from Foodland and Times are just plain out superior to that of Safeway.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption=""Foodland Farms" attempt to appeal to the buy-local movement here in Hawaii. --from Martha Cheng's March 3, 2010 Article in The Honolulu Weeekly"][/caption]

But I fully understand and do not condemn those who shop at national chain super-markets, as I myself may be seen at Wal-mart (arguably the most notorious chain retailer) from time to time. There are economic benefits of doing so:

- the convenience of not having to drive to numerous locations--the sureness and comfort of your entire shopping list being in one location--means time saved traveling and remember what local shops carry which goods.

- lower prices means more money in the pockets of local consumers which in turn could spur economic growth with increased spending in other local industries.

So will local shoppers migrate over from Times to this giant neighbor who will most likely carry Time's entire selection and more?

Derek Kurisu, executive VP of KTA, a Big Island based retailer, clearly points out the threat to his business:

“The enemy is not other local vendors or other supermarkets, because we’re all just trying to make a living here,” he says. “It’s the Mainland sellers that are hurting us.” Buying cheaper goods from the Mainland or overseas put local suppliers out of business, he says. - SHARA ENAY Hawaii Business July 2010

With no change in population or consumption in Honolulu, there does seem to be a zero-sum grocery market whereas the only way to increase business is to take business from competitors.

But the president of Times Supermarkets does not seem to worried about this particular opening. Times, the quasi-local grocery chain (sold to a California chain in 2002), acquired rival Star Markets last year and has lived for years with Safeway operating across the street from its Beretania Street store, said Bob Stout, who was recently named president of Times Supermarkets. “Competition is a good thing, it’s great for the consumers,” he said. - Janis L. Magin, April 2, 2010 Pacific Business News

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Can Times Supermarkets really compete with this? Owner and President Bob Stout thinks so."][/caption]

This intense competition means consumers get more places to shop, more selection and generally lower prices.
The outlook for growers may not be too grim either. Even though Safeway may carry a relatively low proportion of local goods, increasing the size its Beretania store three-fold will increase its stock of local produce three-fold as well, assuming that the proportion of local-imported produce remains the same. This means more business for growers.

All-in-all, I'm hoping for the best turnout and the greatest welfare for local consumers, retail businesses, and growers alike upon the opening of this new store, and I am optimistic that it could work out for all parties. But I am concerned about further crowding out of local retailers by Safeway, which to me is a large, soul-less giant that is continually proving to hold minimal ethical constraints to their business methods:


  1. Times is more expensive since it was bought out by a mainland company and also acquired Star Market. I miss Star Market.

  2. Kristopher-Kent 'K-K' HarrisDecember 10, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Life of business. :'(