Food Prices Under Microscope in the 10th Congressional District

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Rev. Taharka Robinson has made it his mission to address hunger and soaring food prices in the 10th Congressional District.
On the day before Christmas, Robinson commenced a series of protests charging Foodtown at Restoration with pricing food higher than other supermarkets in the district.
Robinson was responding to an August 2011 press release from the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs which found that some supermarkets across the city engaged in “inaccurate pricing, improper taxing of products, improper labeling and inaccuracy of scales and scanners.”
Robinson targeted Foodtown because he conducted a cursory study on Dec. 19 of six supermarkets in the 10th Congressional District. He bought milk, orange juice, and ground turkey. Robinson found that the price of Shady Brook ground turkey varied from $4.19 at NSA Supermarkets to $5.49 at Associated and Foodtown. Robinson admitted his study was not consistent because he bought milk at 5 stores, juice at 4 stores, and ground turkey at 5 stores.
For Robinson, the point is the connection between food prices and hunger. A local paper reported in March that “The 10th Congressional District in central Brooklyn, with close to 30% of its people facing food hardship, had the sixth highest rate of the county’s 436 Congressional Districts.” Robinson believes regulation and legislation is necessary to provide oversight of the retail food industry.
Robinson led a protest in front of Foodtown in Restoration on Dec. 22. Congressman Edolphus Towns joined the protest, saying,
“It’s about fairness” said Congressman Towns wh was present. “We want to make sure we are paying what other people are paying. If hunger is a problem, we have to do everything we can to eliminate hunger. Also, price can be a problem. If they are charging us more than other people pay, that’s wrong. When I go back to Washington, D.C., be assured I will take this issue and deal with it in an effective manner.”
Robinson is collaborating with another food industry watchdog, NYC Coalition Against Hunger. “The supermarket industry should be commended for providing vital services to the community and creating jobs, especially in a tough economy when profit margins in that industry are often relatively low,” said Joel Berg, executive director, New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “But they have a legal responsibility to post accurate prices, and charge customers only what is posted, and to refrain from charging a sales tax on food. And they have a moral responsibility to charge prices that are as low as possible for food. These issues are particularly urgent in the 10th Congressional District of Brooklyn, which has one of the highest rates of food hardship in the entire country.”
Noah Katz owner of Food Town, an anchor business in Restoration, said “We are priced competitively with every other supermarket in the area. We do price checks all the time with all of the other supermarkets. We have somebody that works for us and all they do is go visit all the supermarkets that we compete with everywhere throughout New York, including Bed Stuy.”
Foodtown has been at Restoration since 2003. “We are a family run business operating supermarkets throughout New York City. We believe it is important to give back. We have been doing that since we’ve been in business in every neighborhood that we operate.”
Katz did reach out to Robinson. “I am still interested in meeting with him and his group. I welcome the opportunity to share with them all of our price checks which will show that we are in fact one of the cheapest supermarkets in the area. I want to show him how we very scientifically go through all of our price checks for all our stores.”
Katz gave an example of his efforts to lower prices for Bedford Stuyvesant and a couple of other stores. “For Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with the company that supplies us with fruits and vegetables. I said to them ‘I want you to call up the farmer that grows the collards, kale, mustards, and turnips for us. I want to ask the farmer that nobody makes any money on those items for Thanksgiving. The farmer breaks even, the distributor breaks even, and I break even so that we can sell as much collards, kale, mustard, and turnips it as we can for Thanksgiving,” said Katz.
“This is what we do all the time. I am challenging manufacturers all the time to figure out ways to lower costs so we can lower retails,” Katz said. “These are the conversations I want to have with Rev. Robinson.”
Regarding the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs report on improper labeling, Katz admitted his supermarket had been fined. “Some of the fines that we received were for failure to price mark individual items. For example, when we put up a display of crackers for 2 for $3.00, we put up a sign. We don’t price mark all the boxes. That is true for every supermarket in the City of New York,” Katz said. “There is a law in NYC that says you are supposed to price mark every box and every can. We are not in compliance with that law. We think it’s an outdated law. NYC is the only jurisdiction in the state that requires price marking. We have been working with the City to try and get that law changed like every other area in the U.S. has already done.” Katz works with the Food Industry Alliance, a consortium of all the supermarket retailers in the state. “That law, although it is outdated, generates a tremendous amount of money in fines for supermarkets.”