Giant Food, which has seen its sales of red meat decline as consumers have increasingly switched to poultry, has laid off about 45 of its 750 meat cutters and shifted another 70 from full-time to part-time status.
The layoffs were the first since the early 1970s at Landover-based Giant, company spokesman Barry Scher said yesterday. He said some of the workers, who earn from $10 an hour to $14 an hour, would be offered other jobs in the company's stores, but that those positions would pay less.
"Our beef production has shown a decrease over the past year that we think is related to consumer preference," said Mr. Scher. At the same time, the grocery chain has experienced an increase in its poultry sales, he said.
While meat cutters are needed to cut and wrap red meat for sale, poultry comes to the grocery stores already wrapped for sale and requires no preparation, Mr. Scher said.
Mr. Scher theorized that consumers were cutting back on red meats for economic as well as health reasons. "People are watching their diets and looking for products with less fat," he said.
The Giant spokesman said he did not know how many of the layoffs affected meat cutters in the Baltimore area. But Thomas Russow, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27, put the figures at four full-timers and six part-timers.
Another 20 Baltimore-area meat cutters have had their hours reduced, Mr. Russow said. He said the layoffs, which were carried out according to seniority, have nothing to do with the recently concluded labor contract between Giant and the union. The company began notifying workers last week.
Giant, the dominant grocery chain in the Baltimore area, with some 60 stores, has been hit hard by the economic slowdown, stiff competition and food price deflation. After routinely posting healthy earnings gains for many years, the chain has posted five straight quarters in which profits were down from the preceding year.
Mr. Russow said the laid-off workers are covered under a recall provision in their union contract that ensures they will be the first meat cutters rehired if any vacancy occurs.