FMI SEEKS HELP FOR GULF RETAILERS

WASHINGTON -- Food Marketing Institute here last week asked the U.S. government to provide security, fuel allocations and other services to help supermarkets reopen in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.rnment-assistance payments; inoculations, vaccines and boosters for supermarket workers; and incentives to hire displaced workers.The suggestions were made in response to government requests for

WASHINGTON -- Food Marketing Institute here last week asked the U.S. government to provide security, fuel allocations and other services to help supermarkets reopen in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

rnment-assistance payments; inoculations, vaccines and boosters for supermarket workers; and incentives to hire displaced workers.

The suggestions were made in response to government requests for disaster relief recommendations. "Having supermarkets up and running is essential to restoring a sense of normalcy to people's lives," said Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer, FMI.

Meanwhile, food retailers around the country continued their efforts to raise funds and provide other assistance for disaster relief efforts, even as some of them were bracing for Hurricane Ophelia. According to FMI, food retailers and wholesalers are contributing $28 million in financial support for victims of Hurricane Katrina, plus another $14 million in in-kind aid such as food, bottled water, ice, baby formula, diapers and cleaning supplies.

For stores on the outskirts of the damage zone, business remained brisk last week. Four more member stores of Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., reopened, with another five to seven scheduled to open over the next two weeks, leaving about 25 stores still out of commission, Jay Campbell, president and chief executive officer, told SN. But volume continued to grow in areas that have seen an influx of evacuees, he said.

"Initially, we were shipping a lot of products to member stores so they could simply restock their shelves," Campbell said, "but now we're seeing more demand to fill consumers' more normal needs, and those dramatic increases are certainly good news."

The biggest adjustments are emotional, he added, "as stores deal with so many customers who have been transplanted somewhere else."

Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville, Fla., reopened three more stores in New Orleans early last week, for a total of 20 in operation in the Gulf region, a spokeswoman said. However, 23 Louisiana Winn-Dixies and two in Mississippi remain closed.

A&P, Montvale, N.J., was unable to open any additional Sav-A-Center stores in New Orleans last week, a spokeswoman told SN. The chain is continuing to operate just nine of its 28 stores and, with its own grocery and perishables distribution centers still out of commission, relying on C&S Wholesale Grocers to supply its needs from a warehouse in Birmingham, Ala., she said.

Wal-Mart reopened two more Gulf Coast stores, though 11 in New Orleans and locations in Pass Christian and Waveland, Miss., remained closed, a spokeswoman said. "We're seeing strong customer traffic at our stores in the area, with people, most of whom have been displaced, buying a lot of basics -- underwear, T-shirts and jeans -- along with food," she added.

In preparation for Hurricane Ophelia, which was skirting the East Coast late last week, Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., said the storm's slow pace helped the chain prepare. A company spokesman said stores were being re-opened and restocked as quickly as possible after heavy pre-storm buying.