The Giant Food Inc. truck driver strike appeared to have little effect on Christmas buying, but the Baltimore-Washington food brokers who make their living off keeping Giant's warehouse stocked are chalking up losses.
"I think it is having a pretty major effect," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a Columbia-based regional trade magazine, referring to the food brokers.
Giant represents 39 percent of the combined Baltimore-Washington market. "You take the biggest player and eliminate merchandising for the near future," Metzger said.
A food broker acts as a salesperson for a manufacturer, selling merchandise to the supermarkets. Every time food enters a Giant warehouse, a food broker gets a commission.
But when Teamsters Local 639 went on strike 11 days ago and stopped hauling merchandise from the warehouse to the stores, part of the food brokers' work evaporated.
Instead, Giant's 174 stores have been kept stocked by wholesale food distributors who are trucking merchandise in from outside the Baltimore-Washington area. "There are a lot of ramifications," Metzger said. "We are seeing a trickle-down effect. There are going to be short-term significant commission drop-offs."
The food brokers were reluctant to discuss their situation yesterday. Michael McCann Jr., president of the REM Organization in Columbia, said Giant was his company's largest customer in the market. The strike will affect business, he said, but he would not quantify the loss.
Five or six large food brokers with 100 to 300 employees each serve the Baltimore-Washington market and some 70 other small brokers serve the mid-Atlantic region, according to Metzger.
While the strike may have a serious impact on the food brokers, Giant's customers did not seem to be going away empty-handed.
At several Giant stores, the only visibly bare shelves were in dairy sections and bakeries, where signs had been posted to explain that the strike has caused shortages of Giant brand baked goods.
For instance, some stores had no Super G brand milk, but were well stocked with other brands of milk. At a Lutherville Giant, there were no small containers of milk, which several customers said was a bit of a bother in the busy pre-Christmas day rush.
"There is everything, plenty of it. Giant has been fine as far as I am concerned," said Lauretta Evans of Lutherville. "You see the parking lot. It was full all week. [The strike] is not affecting the public."
At the Severna Park Giant on Route 2, Tom Ripley, a regular shopper said: "It hasn't bothered us at all except they don't have paper bags." The Ripleys said they were making their weekly shopping trip yesterday morning and walked out of the store with two plastic bags of groceries.
At the Giant in the Southdale Shopping Center in Glen Burnie, where a half-dozen Teamsters walked a picket line, Mary Miller said that potato salad, pasta salad and other items were missing from the salad bar.
"The salad bar doesn't have anything on it," said Miller, a speech therapist at a nearby nursing home who often gets lunch at the store. "It has fruits and vegetables, but it doesn't have any of the [prepared] salads."
At the Giant in Columbia's Wilde Lake Village Center, the shelves were fairly well-stocked, making it difficult to tell if store-brand products were out of stock or if shoppers were just desperate for cheese cubes, yogurt and eggs.
But across Columbia, in the Dorsey's Search Village Center, as well as in Ellicott City, the parking lots were as crowded as the paper goods aisles were empty. The stores were low on toilet paper, paper towels and napkins.
If shortages didn't keep people out of the region's largest food chain, a loyalty to the unions may have. Several customers shopping at Giant stores yesterday said they felt guilty doing so. And John Ryder, president of Metro Food Markets, a competing food chain, said he noticed customers asking if they could use their Giant check cashing cards at Metro yesterday, indicating that some people have chosen to shop elsewhere.
"I've been out of town for a few days, and I completely forgot about the strike," said Ruth Hutchinson of Ellicott City. "If I would have remembered, I would have gone to the Safeway.
"But while I'm here, I'm still going to complete my shopping. That's sad, I know."
Said Angela Lloyd of Ellicott City: "I feel bad for the truck drivers. I would prefer not to shop here, but right now, I'm doing last-minute shopping and I know where everything is at Giant."
Pub Date: 12/25/96