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Federal findings stoke more debate about grocery profits

Close-up woman looking a check from a supermarket. Expense tracking and budgeting.
Grustock - stock.adobe.com
Close-up woman looking a check from a supermarket. Expense tracking and budgeting.

Wisconsinites don't spend as much on groceries compared with other states. However, consumer groups say shoppers everywhere are still feeling the pain amid lingering claims of excess corporate profits.

Larger chains such as Walmart are under the microscope of advocates and watchdogs with allegations that executives are taking advantage of customers by citing economic disruptions for far too long.

And a new Federal Trade Commission report found that profits for grocery chains jumped sharply at rates that supply-chain issues could not justify.

Angela Huffman is president of the nonprofit Farm Action.

"It's one thing to raise your prices to cover higher expenses, but what these companies did is use the pandemic as an excuse to exploit the American people who needed to put food on their tables," said Huffman. "And the FTC report shows that they're still doing it, here in 2024."

The report found that retailer profits rose to 6% over total costs in 2021, and 7% in the first three quarters of 2023 - compared to 5.6% in 2015.

Wisconsin households' weekly grocery trip costs about $220 - below the national average of $270. That's according to a Help Advisor report using Census data.

An industry group for larger chains couldn't be reached for comment on the FTC findings, but it more broadly cites factors like transportation costs.

Huffman said she thinks the feds should take anti-trust action to increase competition - and consider forcing the grocery behemoths to break up.

"That would be the ideal outcome is to take away their excessive power," said Huffman. "But other than that, these companies can be fined for this kind of price gouging. And that's another action we would support. There needs to be some kind of consequences."

The FTC staff report recommends "further inquiry by the commission and policymakers," but doesn't propose specific remedies.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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