CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Kroger is responding to Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for a national boycott of the Cincinnati-based grocery chain.
Jackson appeared Tuesday in front of a shuttered Kroger store in Walnut Hills. He accepted the invitation to visit the city from the Rainbow Push Coalition Local Steering Committee.
The coalition says Kroger has closed at least six grocery stores all in black neighborhoods in Cincinnati, adding a lack or restricted access to healthy foods could have a dire effect on neighborhoods.
"We understand it has an impact on the communities we serve. That's why like here in Walnut Hills when we closed the store a year ago we worked really closely with the community, we waited until we opened the nearby Corryville store about a mile away to insure that we could continue to serve customers in the Walnut Hills community at another location." said Keith Dailey, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs.
Jackson is calling for action on so-called "food deserts," communities where stores close , leaving people without close access to food.
"In Memphis, in Macon, Georgia, and in Savannah and Cincinnati, there's a complaint, Kroger is closing stores in the inner city, creating food deserts," he said.
Dailey stressed that when Kroger makes the decision to close a store, it's based solely on how the store is performing.
When Kroger made the decision to close the Walnut Hills location, Dailey said it was because the store was losing money. He insisted the company is committed to keeping the same people employed when stores are forced to close.
"We offered every employee there an opportunity at another nearby Kroger location and are proud to say there was no job loss created as a result of that decision." said Dailey.
Dailey also responded to claims that Kroger is creating a 'food desert' by shutting down stores in urban areas saying they continue to support the underlying problem of food insecurity in America.
"We always strive to close stores in a way that respects the community and respects our associates." said Dailey.
Jackson said his Rainbow Push Coalition plans to boycott Kroger nationwide, until they can co-exist.
"We believe there's a fundamental absurdity in the U.S. food system today, which is that 40-percent of the food produced in our country goes to waste every year, yet one in eight Americans go to bed hungry every day. That just doesn't make sense," he said.
Kroger is also being accused of using a geographical target for urban communities when closing a store, but Dailey argues that's not the case.
"Over the last 12 to 18 months we've closed about 50 underperforming locations and among all of those locations, about 10 percent served what some might call underserved communities." said Dailey.
Kroger is set to close the store at 301 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.
Corporate Affairs Manager for Cincinnati, Dayton stores Erin Rolfes says the grocer isn't closing the location, but relocating the store to the new Court Street location that's being built.
Rolfes says the new store will only be an eight minute walk from the Vine Street location and the relocation will double the work force, something Dailey echoed.
"We employee about 60 people at our Vine Street store today, when the store is built we will employee about 160 people." said Dailey.
Kroger is part of the $100 million investment to revitalize the urban core in downtown Cincinnati, Dailey said. He also insisted Kroger supported growth for African American communities within the city.
"We support the advancement of the African American community here in Cincinnati and around the country by supporting organizations like the NAACP, the Urban League of southwest Ohio." said Dailey, "We've supported the Walnut Hills redevelopment foundation and continue to do so even in the aftermath of our store closing there. Ultimately the best way we believe we can empower communities is by creating jobs and creating economic opportunities in our stores and we can do that when we run a successful business."
Dailey also said that Kroger respects Jackson and the coalition and is open to dialogue and discussion with the group.
"We always strive to close stores in a way that respects the community and respects our associates."