Southern California’s supermarket sector was rocked on Friday when Kroger announced a proposed merger with Albertsons, highlighting a slice of local retail that has fared well in the pandemic era.
The deal to pair several of Kroger’s local chains (Ralphs and Food4Less) with Albertsons’ stores of the same name as well as Vons and Pavillions will attract intense regulatory scrutiny. Would such a giant chain reduce consumers’ food shopping options?
And what about employees? The companies said they would sell up to 375 stores through a spin-off.
Consider that a merger of this magnitude could reshape the food and beverage industry in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which employed 163,600 people in August.
My trusty spreadsheet, filled with state employment numbers, found that grocery store jobs accounted for 105% of pre-pandemic employment in August 2019. The sector, which includes supermarkets, stores beverages and small grocery stores, recorded a gain of 7,600 jobs in 12 months, or 4.9% growth. This hiring frenzy is nearly five times the annual rate of 0.8% since 1990.
Consider the outstanding performance of grocery stores relative to the rest of retail during the pandemic. Employment stagnated in malls without groceries suffering.
The number of retail jobs in Southern California – minus food stores – was 581,300 workers in August – still 99% of pre-pandemic staffing, or 5,400 employees at short. This is after increasing by 15,900 in one year for a growth of 2.8% against an annual hiring rate of 0.4% since 1990.
Compare this job performance to other key Southern California job niches: Transportation/Warehousing (123%), Health Care & Human Services (105%), Business Services: (103%), Real Estate/Finance (100%), food and beverage services venues (98%), manufacturing: (96%), arts, entertainment and recreation (92%) and accommodation (81%).
Let’s break down the grocery store industry, geographically speaking.
In Los Angeles County…
Food stores: 96,300 workers in August, 105% from August 2019 after a growth of 4,900 in one year – 5.4% growth.
Retail less food stores: 321,200 jobs, 100% of pre-pandemic level after growth of 11,700 in one year – 3.8% growth.
In Orange County…
Food stores: 30,000 workers in August, 101% of pre-pandemic level after increasing by 900 in one year — growth of 3.1%.
Retail less food stores: 114,100 jobs, 95% from August 2019 after declining by 200 in one year — a drop of 0.2%.
And in the Inland Empire…
Food stores: 37,300 workers in August, up 111% from August 2019 after increasing by 1,800 in one year — growth of 5.1%.
Retail less food stores: 146,000 jobs, 101% of pre-pandemic level after increasing by 4,400 in one year – 3.1% growth.
Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be contacted at [email protected]