Grocery cartels: Gobbling up food dollars at the ‘expense of farmers, food chain workers and eaters’

When the non-profit Oxfam created a graphic several years ago showing how just 10 companies* control practically everything you’ll find in the supermarket — from pet and baby food to soup to nuts — it was an eye-opening look into the world of Big Food.

Now, Food & Water Watch has gone a step further. Its new report The Grocery Cartels explains how the Covid-19 pandemic became a profit-maker for mega food retailers, helping dish out the final death blow to smaller grocers.

While operations such as Walmart and Costco appear to offer convenience and lower prices, the pandemic “pulled back the curtain on the idea that the current food system offers abundance, efficiency, and resilience.”

Despite the myth of a competitive marketplace, or the “illusion of choice,” the current food retail system we have now, says Food & Water Watch, “is functioning as it was designed: to funnel wealth from local communities into the hands of corporate shareholders and executives.” 

For example, Food & Water Watch found that in 2019, four companies, Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Albertson’s, were taking in an estimated two-thirds of all grocery sales. When the pandemic took over in 2020, major supermarket chains saw “double-digit growth and surging stock values.” Walmart, in fact, takes in $1 out of every $3 spent at a food retailer.

Despite Walmart’s “Save money. Live better” slogan, Food & Water Watch reveals that the mega store is well-known to up its food prices once “it becomes the dominate grocery retailer in town.”

As Food & Water Watch points out, “market power enables intermediaries like retailers and processors to capture an ever-growing share of food dollars, at the expense of farmers, food chain workers and eaters.”

And while we’re encouraged to “shop small” at independently owned retailers this holiday season, it seems our options where food is concerned, both brand-wise and where it’s purchased, are becoming smaller and smaller.

Read the Food & Water Watch full report here:

*The Big Ten food companies: Nestle, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, Mars, Mondelez, Associated British Foods, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Pepsico.