Food prices are a little like the weather. Everyone complains a trip to the grocery store costs too much, but few do anything about it. On Tuesday, Food Lion President Meg Ham talked about food prices, changes at the biggest grocery store chain based in North Carolina and dealing with staffing issues and food insecurities.
Inflation and food supply chain issues caused grocery store prices to increase about 11% from 2021 to 2022, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts food prices at grocery stores will increase 6.6% this year, still above historic rates.
“I think about food prices a lot,” says Ham, a Cornell University graduate who has been president of the Salisbury-based company since 2014. “I try to think, ‘How can we save a penny so we can keep our prices low? How can we be more efficient so we can keep our prices low?’”
Right now, she says, inflation and the cost of commodities make those answers more difficult. Egg supply issues lessened, which has brought their cost down, which she notes is one win in an overall battle.
Here are some other things Ham had to say about Food Lion and shopping.
Food Lion, like other retailers, has struggled with hiring, but Ham calls the situation stable now at its 1,100-plus stores, including 514 in North Carolina. Food Lion employs more than 82,000 people across 10 southeastern and mid-Atlantic states. It is owned by Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize, which also owns the Hannaford, Stop & Shop and Giant grocery chains.
No single issue makes the total difference, but it does involve wages and benefits, as well as overtime pay. The most important thing, she says, is finding people who understand the organization.
“Mostly, it’s about a culture fit and having people who care about service to our customers.”
In March, President Joe Biden appointed Ham to his advisory Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
Ham says she looks forward to contributing. “I have some experience dealing with food insecurities, buying nutritious food on a budget and a passion for exercise,” she says. “Food is an important part of that. I expect to bring those experiences with me.”
This week, Food Lion unveiled $50 million worth of upgrades at more than two dozen Wilmington-area stores.
Most of that money went toward making the stores more sustainable, such as the installation of LED lighting and changes to refrigerated cases with doors. The company enhanced self-checkout options and added Food Lion To Go, a service in which store workers organize a customer’s grocery list to prepare them for pickup. The service, available at 650 of Food Lion’s 1,100-plus stores, costs $1.99 for orders above $35 and $3.99 for lesser orders.
The company also added an assortment of what it calls ready-to-eat, ready-to-cook and ready-to-heat meals as part of its upgrades in the Wilmington stores. She says those offerings will spread across the company.
As part of the store upgrades in Wilmington, Food Lion also contributed $500,000 to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
The gift will support the nonprofit’s first 3,000-square-foot commercial kitchen. It will make meals and provide culinary training, aiming to help people gain food-service jobs.
“We are part of the towns and communities,” says Ham. “We don’t just operate a store.”
Food Lion also contributed another $32,500 to buy refrigerators and freezers in support of 13 partner feeding agencies.Through its Food Lion Feeds program, the company has helped to provide more than 1 billion meals to individuals and families since 2014 and has committed to donate 1.5 billion meals by 2025, Ham says. Each Food Lion store also partners with a local helping agency to donate unsold, edible food that might otherwise go to waste.