Remarks by President Biden During Meeting with CEOs of Companies to Discuss the Holiday Shopping Season and His Administration’s Work to Move Goods to Shelves
Executive Office of the President Library
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
2:08 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: All right. If I can get my pages unstuck here, we’re ready. I’m going to take my mask off when I speak here.
First of all, thanks for joining us today. I really appreciate it. I know how incredibly busy you all are and the heck of a job you’re doing to make sure people aren’t disappointed this past Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas coming up.
This morning, I provided an update on the Omicron variant and told the American people that it is a — the new variant is cause for concern, but not a cause for panic. And we’re going to fight this with science and speed. We’re not going to fight it with chaos and confusion. And we believe we can deal with it.
On Thursday, I’m going to be putting forward a detailed strategy on how to deal with this new variant. And that is not shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccination and more boosters, testing, and — and more.
In the meantime, I’ve said the best protection against this new variant is to get fully vaccinated and get a booster shot. And I urge all Americans who haven’t yet done that: Get it done today. There’s no excuse. We have over 80,000 places you can get it done. I mean, there’s just — there’s no reason. It’s free. It’s available. And if you qualify for the booster, get it done today.
And now to the business at hand: I know it’s been an incredibly busy time for all of you here today, and — and that’s a very good thing, from my perspective. But then again, I’m not doing all the work you all are doing. (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, it really — it really matters.
I remember — and I think we all do — last year: families celebrating the holidays apart from one another or on a video or — for fear of spreading a deadly virus.
And this year, thanks to scientists, researchers, and doctors who developed the COVID-19 vaccines, and the nurses and other frontline workers who saw to it that it was administered — many of them your employees in your stores, who were able to have a very different Thanksgiving as a consequence of that than last Thanksgiving — reunited with friends and family and I think, maybe the most important, with a little more hope — a little more hope.
And fewer Americans were worried about putting food on the table. And hunger is actually down 40 percent this year in the United States of America.
4.5 million more Americans than last year had the dignity of a job.
What it also means is that as we’re looking toward the holiday season, we feel a lot more like the ones we had in the past.
Consumer spending has recovered to where it was headed before the pandemic. Early estimates are that Black Friday sales were up nearly a third since last year and in-store sales were up by nearly — by more — even more than that. I believe it was 40-some percent by –- I don’t have the number on top — I think it was 44 percent — something like that.
And — and so, we’re hearing similar reports from Small Business Saturday. I don’t have those numbers yet.
And I’m sure that some of the people watching this online are also doing a little Cyber Monday shopping right now.
And that’s why I brought everyone together today, and thank you for accommodating it.
The business leaders who are gathered here today represent a broad swath of American shopping: brick-and-mortar and online stores, national and local grocery chains, our nation’s largest retailer, and makers and sellers of toys, electronics, and health supplies.
I want to hear from each of you about what you’re seeing this holiday season; how well prepared are you to and — to have products you need on your shelves; and, you know, how you’ve innovated and hired to overcome the supply chain challenges you have; and kept workers safe from COVID-19 so that the American people can have a holiday season that they’ve been long hoping for.
In particular, I want to hear about the challenges facing smaller businesses. The small businesses are so important to our communities. They don’t have the same leverage as many of you do.
And finally, I want to hear your ideas on how the federal government can continue partnering with you all to keep shelves stocked so American consumers can get what they need.
And some of you have been working with my port envoy, John Porcari, to get goods through our ports faster. And we’ve seen some progress in that effort with a number of containers sitting on docks for more than eight days — down by over 40 percent this month. And we keep building on that progress.
And so, I’d like to start the conversation with — Meg, with your permission — by turning to Meg Ham, president of the Food Lion. Meg, food is, to state the obvious, a big part of the holiday season.
MS. HAM: Yes. (Laughs.)
THE PRESIDENT: And your grocery store chain has a large footprint. You’re in 10 states with over 1,100 supermarkets. How did Thanksgiving go?
And, by the way, you’re in my state as well.
And can — can you tell me about your company’s ability to get the products you need from your suppliers and on your store shelves? And just talk a little with me about what’s going on.
MS. HAM: Sure, I can. And first of all, I’d like to say thank you for allowing us to come together today to talk about this very important topic. And certainly, the pandemic has had an impact, as you described, on how customers do their grocery shopping and what customers are buying when they do do their grocery shopping.
And, first and foremost, I’d like to say that our supply chain has — is strong and robust.
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
MS. HAM: And we have ample product inside of our stores for customers to choose from during this holiday. However, they have changed their shopping patterns.
And this is our second Thanksgiving, as you mentioned, during the pandemic. And the holiday season is incredibly important as it relates to food, but I think also as it relates to our country and especially with Thanksgiving — a time to come together to maintain traditions, to start new traditions, to maintain some sense of normalcy, and to move forward with hope, as you said.
And so, Thanksgiving is an incredibly important time for us. And I think, first and foremost, we started with an immense amount of planning to be ready for the business and for customers to be able to buy what they need to at our stores. And we worked very early with our vendor partners to get clear on our forecasts for the business and what we could do together, from a logistic standpoint, to ensure they had the supplies they needed, we had the supplies we needed to get to the customer. So, it was a great collaboration and partnership as we move forward.
So, whether it is everyday items or important items during these holiday times around fresh collards, where I’m located, or canned cranberry sauce, we worked very differently to figure out how to move the product, how to work with local farmers to get product directly to our stores to ensure customers had what they needed this holiday season.
THE PRESIDENT: How much working with local farmers is engaged in your — in your operation?
MS. HAM: We have a large local program across all of our footprint, and it’s an important part of our produce business specifically, and all across our store will we have local products.
So, we have strong partnerships across the store.
THE PRESIDENT: One last question —
MS. HAM: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: — I don’t want to dominate this — but what — was there any one product that was harder to garner than others that was needed or — not needed, but is -– you know, was looked for for Thanksgiving?
MS. HAM: There –- as you know, there are just so many that are special to individual people. And we know what they are, and we worked really hard to get all of them. And if we couldn’t get one kind, we got another brand. And so —
THE PRESIDENT: Gotcha.
MS. HAM: — there wasn’t one particular one; it was focused on being able to provide the special items during this time of year.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, great. Glad you had a good — are you looking forward to what — you don’t have any numbers or ideas of what you expect from Saturday or today on —
MS. HAM: We had a strong Thanksgiving holiday season and expect that that will continue into the Thanks- — to the Christmas selling season as well.
We have our own supply chain, so we have our own distribution -–
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. HAM: — logistics network that helps us work with our partners to move product.
And we also really appreciate the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act finalization that has helped move us forward and will substantially improve the roads and the bridges to help the seamless supply of product across our 10 st- — our 10-state footprint.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s interesting you mention it — I think people underestimate just how out of sync our infrastructure has been for so long. And I think that people who live near that bridge that certain trucks can’t go over or near that fire station where you have to go 10 miles around the creek to get — because you can’t go over the particular bridge or sidewalks, highways, et cetera. So, I’m looking forward to it being a lot better over the next couple years.
MS. HAM: Yeah. Good.
THE PRESIDENT: So –-
MS. HAM: We’re planning for a great December holidays. And, it’s planned already, so —
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
Doug, I know you run a small outfit –- (laughter) — called Walmart. And I want to tell you something: I don’t remember when you all — it’s not a question, but I’m just curious — when you became the largest food retailer in the country.
And — but I spent more time walking through the aisles of Walmart than I want to admit over my -– because there’s one right down the street from where I live in Delaware.
Anyway, how are things looking for you this holiday season, Doug, and –- and across both retail and the grocery side? Walmart has been working closely with my team to clear bottlenecks at the — and I really appreciate the help — in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Have you seen any progress in the ability of a company like yours to get boxes off the docks faster, get product from — from the docks to your shelves, et cetera? Can you talk to me a little bit about that?
MR. MCMILLON: Yes, sir, I can. Thank you for the question and thank you for your partnership. And thanks for shopping in our stores.
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
MR. MCMILLON: I’d like to take the opportunity to also thank our associates because they’re doing an outstanding job and have been through this whole period, and that continues up until this moment.
We think we’re going to have a really good holiday season. We shared our earnings results a couple of weeks ago. And we told everybody that. And we shared that our inventory levels are up more than 10 percent.
So, while we’re all concerned about the supply chain, we have more inventory than we did a year ago and have the inventory that we need to be able to support the business.
And we are seeing progress. The port and transit delays are improving. As you and I discussed not long ago, about two thirds of what we sell in the United States is made or grown here. That other third has a meaningful portion coming from Canada and Mexico, which is helpful.
For the part that comes outside of North America, the port issue has been a big issue. But we’ve really seen a lot of improvement.
Because of what you all did to help with overnight hours and because of the team’s work to reroute to other ports, to extend our lead times, and have other creative solutions, we’ve seen an increase in throughput over the last four weeks of about 26 percent nationally in terms of getting containers through ports.
And in the Southern California ports in particular, where you’ve been really focused, we’ve seen a 51 percent improvement in that flow through —
THE PRESIDENT: Wow.
MR. MCMILLON: — and that’s helped a lot as it relates to categories like toys, which are so important for Christmas.
So, we’ll keep working to make sure that we’re in a good in-stock position as we go all the way through the season. We do expect it to be strong. And there are a few items, as there are every year with the hottest toys or things in electronics, that we wish we had more of.
But generally speaking, we’re in good shape and really appreciate the partnership.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. You’ve been really — really cooperative. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it.
And I was -– I was really pleased, quite frankly, and proud of the cooperation you saw between business and labor in the ports in Southern California. It — it made me feel good they — you know, you were there — it didn’t take much to convince them that we should move — go to 24/7, seven days a week.
And anyway, thank you for being –-
MR. MCMILLON: It takes all of us.
THE PRESIDENT: It sure as heck does.
All right. Well, I guess I’m going to turn this over now to — to Brian. He’s going to moderate the rest. But I warn you, I’m going to intervene with – with questions, with your permission.
2:22 P.M. EST