Food Retailers Urge Aid to the Inner-City Poor : Urban development: Group calls for legislation that would encourage greater investment by supermarket chains.


The Food Marketing Institute, a national trade association for the food retailing industry, on Monday called for federal legislation that would encourage supermarket chains and other potential investors to construct commercial enterprises in poor, urban communities.

In a wide-ranging “urban initiatives” report prompted by the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the institute said special incentives--such as tax breaks for investors--are needed to foster new inner-city economic development.

The report--issued by the trade group’s urban initiatives task force--was endorsed by that organization’s board of directors and released Monday at the institute’s annual convention in Chicago. It is the first time the Food Market Institute has encouraged an industrywide role on inner-city issues. The institute formed the task force to make recommendations on urban issues in the wake of disturbances in the Southland last year.


“Supermarkets . . . provide basic products and services essential to human life and health,” the report said. “It is often at the supermarket that young people have their first job experience. This uniquely positions the industry to take a leadership role in developing proactive programs to address the societal and economic challenges facing urban and other neglected neighborhoods.”

However, the trade group also said it wants government to assume more responsibility for economic renewal in depressed urban areas.

“We need some help,” said Roger Stangeland, chairman of the Los Angeles-based Vons supermarket chain and the new chairman of the Food Market Institute’s board of directors. “Any kind of tax incentive to increase the available pool of capital to support the store-development process would be helpful.”

The report called on members to:

* Support legislative and regulatory proposals that would encourage banks to fund business development in urban centers.

* Identify and support initiatives at the federal, state and local levels that would establish incentives in underserved communities for building supermarkets.

* Meet with White House and congressional representatives to discuss proposals to facilitate supermarket industry investment in community renewal.


The institute’s urban initiatives were welcomed at the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors, which conducted a 29-city examination of supermarket needs in poor areas last year.

“Most of the city governments and community organizations providing survey information cited a shortage of (supermarket) outlets,” said Mike Brown, a spokesman for the mayors’ association. “We can say--without hesitation--that the (trade group’s) recommendations are good ideas.”

The report comes about one week after President Clinton unveiled an urban aid proposal that would mingle tax breaks, grants and cuts in government red tape to assist distressed areas.

The Administration’s five-year, $8.1-billion proposal takes a new tack on the “enterprise zone” ideas of recent Republican administrations, calling for government to designate some communities to receive help--including tax breaks--for businesses that hire local workers.