Raley’s recent announcement that it will no longer sell tobacco products at most of its supermarkets may signal a trend toward a greater health focus among retail outlets. But a grocery industry consultant and smokers in Sacramento said the move is not necessarily a surprise: Most smokers already buy cheaper cigarettes at convenience stores and gas stations, anyway.
A Raley’s spokeswoman said the grocery chain will stop selling tobacco items by the end of this month at 128 Raley’s, Bel Air Markets and Nob Hill Foods stores in Northern California and Nevada.
The company will continue to sell tobacco products at its Food Source supermarkets, which are managed independently of the other supermarkets, spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said. There are five in the Sacramento area. The grocer also will continue to sell tobacco products at its Aisle1 convenience stores, including six in the Sacramento region, as a convenience for their customers, Minor said.
The family-owned grocer said it already has stopped purchasing tobacco products for the affected markets.
Company officials called the decision “our next big step in ongoing efforts to provide healthier options and to raise awareness about health and wellness.”
“This is not a decision that we’ve taken lightly,” Raley’s said Friday in a news release. “There is a very strong correlation between tobacco use and many serious health issues … At this time, the evidence against tobacco usage is simply too strong to ignore.”
The company made a point in its press statement that although alcohol and sugar-based products, which it sells, “can also have adverse effects with high consumption, there is far less evidence at this time to indicate that consumption of sugary snacks and alcohol in moderation poses a significant health threat to healthy adults.”
The Raley’s decision comes after the CVS drugstore chain announced last year that it no longer would sell tobacco products. The Rite Aid pharmacy chain also recently reduced tobacco sales and placed smoking cessation products in more prominent locations in stores. Rite Aid officials could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Supermarket industry consultant Robert Reynolds of Reynolds Economics in the Bay Area said tobacco sales, once a huge revenue source for grocery chains, have been on the decline, percentage-wise, for decades as convenience stores and gas stations gain greater market control.
The product is subject to high theft rates, often prompting stores to lock it up, he said. Also, tobacco companies ask grocers to conduct promotional campaigns and put up signage, Reynolds said.
“It is unlikely given the size of a firm like Raley’s that they will miss it a whole lot, Reynolds said. “It is not a big, big deal.”
But, Reynolds said, the move is good for the grocer’s public relations image. “They also can hang up a sign and say, we care for you, we’re doing a favor for the community,” he said. “It’s a pretty good PR sort of thing.”
Raley’s shoppers on Freeport Boulevard said that they approved of the decision.
“I think tobacco products in general have proven to be very addictive and very harmful to health, so if they want to take that stand, I support them,” said shopper Janette Lischeske of Land Park.
Several smokers interviewed by The Sacramento Bee said Raley’s decision won’t affect them because they already buy their cigarettes at gas stations, convenience stores and tobacco shops.
“Markets like (Raley’s), typically, their cigarettes are a little older and stale anyway, so I always buy from a tobacco shop or a gas station,” said William Bonnevier of Elk Grove.
Amy Johnson of south Sacramento bought cigarettes Saturday at a gas station a few blocks from a Raley’s. She said she approves of Raley’s decision, but doesn’t think it will matter to smokers.
“Nine out of 10 smokers you ask where they buy their cigarettes, it will not be from a Raley’s or a Bel Air because of their prices,” she said. Johnson, who has cut back and switched to a brand she says is healthier, applauded Raley’s move, however. “I think removing cigarettes off shelves would save a lot of respiratory problems in the future.”
Johnson said she senses a trend. “First CVS, now Raley’s. Who’s next?”
Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Reporter Richard Chang contributed to this report.