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I'm a fifth-generation grocer. The business my family built over the span of generations is celebrating its 103rd year. Today, Coborn's is an employee-owned company with 10,000 dedicated employees. We have grown to include 77 grocery stores across Minnesota and five other states.

While a lot has changed in the past century, there are some disturbing historical parallels. Then and now, very large companies are getting even bigger by systemically crushing smaller competitors. We recognize we are no longer small, but in comparison to some of the larger operators we are noticeably smaller and we, as a result, are feeling the pressure — unfair pressure that shows that the playing field isn't as level as it should be.

This spring, I had the opportunity to attend a national convention of independent grocers. I also had the privilege of testifying before the Federal Trade Commission about the roadblocks a handful of giant corporations routinely put up to hurt their smaller competitors. What I heard over and over again at the convention was reflected in a report recently released by the FTC that underscores how the biggest corporations helped themselves during the pandemic even when it wasn't in the public's interest.

The report, "Feeding America in a Time of Crisis," shows that the biggest chains cut to the front of the national supply lines and took whatever they wanted even when it left smaller operators with empty shelves. One chain in particular actually fined suppliers who didn't deliver orders on time and in full. From toilet paper and cleaning products to pet food, America's independent grocers had to fend for themselves.

Many of our customers don't live within easy walking or driving distance of big-box stores, so shoppers in more rural areas are the ones who suffered most. Fortunately, our stores were in a position to deliver to our customers because we were early adopters in online grocery sales and deliveries. But what about smaller operators that didn't have the bargaining muscle to fill up their shelves?

Giant corporations shouldn't get preferential treatment, but the FTC's report shows that is exactly what happened during the pandemic. Sadly, it was happening long before that and it took a national crisis to reveal how profoundly broken the system is.

After decades of consolidation, four big chains control 69% of America's grocery sales. And they consistently use that power to demand special treatment, lower prices and exclusive product sizes that drive their profits ever upward.

A century ago, my family's growing business faced a threat from chain stores that wanted to put them out of business. Just a few years later, Congress passed laws to make sure giant corporations couldn't use their power to demand special treatment and drive smaller companies like Coborn's out of business.

It's time for our federal lawmakers in Washington to take a hard look at the grocery sector and ask whether the playing field is fair because I assure you it is not. It shouldn't take a national crisis and empty store shelves to spur action in Washington, but that's exactly where we are today.

This isn't about politics; it's about fairness. This isn't about big vs. small businesses; it's about giving every American a fair deal at the cash register as they try to feed their families. The FTC's report was a sobering analysis of what is wrong. Hopefully, those words can be turned into positive action to do what's right.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has visited our stores, and has seen firsthand how businesses like ours are the heart of the communities they serve. As chairwoman of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on competition policy, antitrust and consumer rights, she is uniquely positioned to make sure that the federal laws on the books are enforced, strengthened and modernized.

This is a make-or-break moment for Washington to restore fairness, kick-start competition and give stores like the one that bears my family's name a shot at thriving into the next century.

Emily Coborn Wright is senior vice president of growth initiatives for St. Cloud-based Coborn's Inc.