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But Judge Lindley, himself an occasional A & P shopper, also paid tribute to the company: "to buy, sell and distribute to a substantial portion of 130 million people, one and three-quarter billion dollars worth of food annually [the gross at the time] at a profit of 1½¢ on the dollar, is an achievement one may well be proud of." He granted that many of A & P's actions, "standing alone, are devoid of wrongful character." But he found that Acco was the "rotten thread" that gave A & P's other operations "a polluted colored light."
Since then, A & P says that it has abolished Acco's double role. It has also leaned so far backward to avoid selling below cost that even its fiercest rivals now concede that they can frequently undersell A & P. In New Orleans last week, Independent Grocer John Schwegmann, who runs a thriving supermarket, said: "I started on a shoestring right down the street from the A & P supermarket and I have done all right. I consider them the fairest competition I have."
Cocked Pistol. But the trustbusters have not relented in their war on A & P. They are now trying to force A & P to get rid of its non-retail subsidiaries and to sell its seven retail divisions to separate ownerstrying, in short, to divest the Hartfords of their empire. Says Mr. John wryly: "We'd be too crooked to run it." The Hartford brothers have fought back, and fought hard. When they planned a series of full-page ads attacking the trustbusters, A & P's lawyers warned the Hartfords that they might be sent to jail for contempt of court. Said John Hartford: "How long would we have to go, a year or two?" The lawyer said probably no more than 30 days. "Well," said John, "I'm not busy these days. I guess I can spare 30 days. What about you, George?" George said he wouldn't mind going to jail if they would let him fix radios. The ads ran.
In its defense against the trustbusters, there was no doubt that A & P had substantial public support. Since A & P had been mightily effective in bringing down the price of food, the average U.S. housewife did not need to look any farther than her pocketbook to know where she stood. Even U.S. farmers, who once railed against chain stores, now supported A & P. By cutting the costs of food distribution to the barest minimum, A & P had given farmers a bigger share of the consumer's dollar. For years A & P had carefully cultivated their good will in other ways. It spent millions showing them how to get better prices by improving the quality of their products. It persuaded them to let peaches ripen on the trees before picking; to pick fresh corn before dawn and get it to A & P stores the same day; to crossbreed chickens in a way to produce more white meat (the "Chicken of Tomorrow" a breed with a huge breast, tiny legs and wings). Many a labor union also supported A & P (many stores are unionized) because of its low prices, higher-than-union scales of pay, pensions, etc. Says Mr. John: "I'm a union man myself at heart. Whatever labor got it had to get with a gun."