Pandemic boosting rural grocers but uncertainty lingers


Miguel Octavio, KAAL TV (MN)

January 11, 2021


(ABC 6 News) - The pandemic is giving rural grocery stores a boost.


When the coronavirus first broke out, bigger stores ran out of toilet paper, forcing people in small towns to turn to their local stores.


But some owners are still worried their doors will close for good. A recent report has the numbers to prove it.


Sunshine Foods in Dodge Center serves as a hub to meet people's needs.


"They've got a pretty good stock, too," said shopper Dale E. Rood.


It's stocked with fresh produce, meat, and other essentials, while sitting between a gas station and hardware store.


But some are concerned, rural grocery stores like this may not be around in a few years for the more than 2,000 people it serves in town.


"It's a lot with staffing, with price, competition," said Julie Tesch, Center for Rural Policy & Development president and CEO.


Tesch said it's tough competing with the prices and convenience online shopping, bigger box stores, and other variety chains like the Dollar General have to offer.


 "The rural grocery stores are the backbone of the community," Tesch said. "The grocery store is not only where you buy food, it's a gathering spot."


The organization teamed up with the University of Minnesota Extension team surveying local grocery owners between May through Oct. 2019.


While most owners expressed optimism about the current state of business, 88% of 129 respondents said they're worried about the long-term economic sustainability. The report also states 49% of respondents are concerned they'll go out of business in five years.


E-commerce is especially making business challenge for rural grocery stores and will lead to negative ripple effects in small communities, said Brent Bosch, Sunshine Foods general manager.


His family has ran the business for nearly 45 years and operates 16 stores across the Midwest, including southeast Minnesota's Chatfield, Dodge Center, and Spring Valley communities.


His solution seems simple but is still an ask...