Food stamps accounted for about 5.8 percent of the estimated $669 billion in annual sales at grocery stores, according to the Food Marketing Institute. But for some retailers, it accounts for a much larger share of revenue. Wal-Mart is the largest supermarket in the country, and retail analyst Craig Johnson of Customer Growth Partners estimates it rings up $16 billion in food stamp sales each year. That accounts for about 23 percent of federal spending on food stamps.
Wal-Mart declined to comment. But after the government restricted food stamp benefits in 2013, the company reported a 0.9 percent hit to its quarterly grocery sales.
“They may be calling it out as an excuse for underperformance,” Johnson said. “But it will be a small marginal impact.”
Walmart is a massive retailer that can weather those small hits, but grocers overall operate on notoriously thin margins. Smaller stores — particularly the bodegas and independent retailers that serve poor neighborhoods — would likely feel more pain.
“Certainly, they would see it in their bottom line,” said Brian Lang of The Food Trust, a Pennsylvania nonprofit. Lang directs a campaign to make healthy food more accessible. “Implementing cuts to that extent are going to have stark consequences for retailers, especially in low-income communities.”