Rather than block proposed grocery merger, AG Bonta should fight retail crime | Opinion


As the CEO of the Central Valley Business Federation, I often hear directly from businesses about government overreach, especially in our energy and agriculture sector.

However, occasionally we find that our well-intentioned friends in positions of power actually fail to act when urgent support is needed. California has reached that point as it relates to crime and specifically retail theft.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission announced its decision to block the Kroger-Albertsons merger. Predictably, Attorney General Bonta swiftly announced his intention to hop on the bandwagon and join a coalition, alongside the FTC, in this endeavor. While media coverage of the proposed merger has highlighted concerns voiced by California’s progressive attorney general regarding potential price surges and labor ramifications, it is essential to scrutinize the broader context.

The attorney general’s focus on this proposed merger represents an all too familiar scene for Californians. Our own top cop is seemingly focused on every single issue except routine crime in our communities. The incessant attempts to insert more government into every issue imaginable while doing little to aid small businesses and their employees is disappointing. Not all businesses are greedy and self-interested; most are well intended and good at providing essential goods and services to their clients.

In fact, Kroger, has pledged significant investments amounting to $500 million to slash prices and an additional $1.3 billion toward enhancing the customer experience. Moreover, the corporation has unequivocally assured the preservation of the unionized labor force within both merging entities. With one of the nation’s largest unionized workforces under its wing, Kroger’s consolidation not only secures existing jobs but also establishes a formidable counterbalance to non-unionized retail giants. These assurances underscore Kroger’s commitment to fostering favorable conditions for both consumers and employees alike.

Although Bonta expresses support for union jobs, he currently opposes the proposed merger, which will protect existing union positions and invest $1 billion in employee wages and industry-leading benefits. The attorney general’s stance grossly overlooks the potential benefits this merger could bring to consumers, employees, and the broader California economy.

The $500 million earmarked for price reductions holds the promise of directly easing financial strains on consumers, especially those confronting economic hardships. Lowering prices on essential commodities, such as groceries, can alleviate financial burdens, particularly among low-income households.

Grocery stores and other retail establishments are on the front lines of California’s ever deteriorating retail crime environment. Criminals routinely target community grocery stores, knowing full well that their employees are not willing to risk personal harm to prevent theft. But the costs of security and lost merchandise erodes slim grocery margins, and such expenses are ultimately borne by customers. If Bonta cared about California consumers and businesses, he would focus on protecting them from out of control crime.

His steadfast opposition to the merger, coupled with the threat of legal action against Kroger, raises pertinent questions regarding his agenda. Rather than deploying California’s resources to impede a private-sector merger, Bonta would be better served directing his attention towards addressing more urgent challenges facing the state. California presently grapples with a pronounced crime wave and a burgeoning homelessness crisis, particularly evident in its major urban centers.

Redirecting resources and focus towards tackling these pressing issues would yield more immediate and tangible dividends for Californians. Such endeavors align seamlessly with Bonta’s professed commitment to championing vulnerable populations and fostering community well-being. In prioritizing the most pressing challenges confronting constituents, addressing crime, homelessness, and avenues to alleviate the cost of living would undoubtedly constitute a more pragmatic and impactful approach for the attorney general.

The bottom line is this: Bonta should stop the political maneuvering. His decision to block the Kroger-Albertsons merger not only undermines the potential benefits for consumers and employees, but also sends a troubling message about the regulatory landscape. Rather than weaponizing a merger of two private companies for political gain, Bonta ought to pivot toward addressing pressing societal challenges, thereby advancing the collective well-being of California’s populace.

On behalf of many businesses throughout the San Joaquin Valley and beyond, I call on Attorney General Bonta to act swiftly to reign in retail crime, even if that means redirecting attention from less urgent matters that are best left to the free market. Clint Olivier is the CEO of the Central Valley Business Federation.