CINCINNATI -- Rev. Jesse Jackson has suspended calls for a boycott after a June meeting with Kroger Co. executives in Chicago.
"I thought it was a very effective meeting," Jackson said in an exclusive phone interview with WCPO Tuesday. "We are out of the streets and around the bargaining table trying to resolve the dispute."
Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said last week at the company's annual meeting that Chief Financial Officer Mike Schlotman recently met with members of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, but he offered no further details.
"Obviously we have a ton of respect for Rev. Jackson and there's an ongoing conversation," he said.
Kristal Howard, Kroger's head of corporate communications, also attended the meeting. She said via email that "dialogue continues about innovative ways we can partner and work together to improve communities."
Jackson called for a national boycott in April because Kroger closed unprofitable stores in two predominantly black zip codes in Memphis early this year. A week after Jackson visited Kroger headquarters April 9 and spoke in front of a shuttered store in East Walnut Hills, McMullen said he was willing to consider new ideas for solving food deserts in low-income neighborhoods.
"We think it's incredibly important to serve all customers," he said.
At last month's meeting in Chicago, Jackson said discussion involved "not just food deserts. We also want to be business partners, suppliers, so it's a complete team of officials here and we met with them and had other members of our group on the phone across the country."
Jackson was impressed that Kroger sent its CFO to the meeting.
"They took our concerns seriously and respectfully and we appreciate that very much," he said. "We don't engage in confrontation for its own sake. It's the last thing we want. If people want to talk and resolve conflict, we're all about that."
The East Walnut Hills Kroger in front of which Jackson spoke this spring still stood empty by the time of the meeting, but the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation plans to turn it into a mini-grocery, and foundation officials said they would be open to collaborating with the larger company.
"Walnut Hills could be a perfect place to rapid prototype some ideas in a way that wouldn't be terribly costly, but could be quickly informative," healthy outreach coordinator Gary Dangel said.