The probe is "totally without merit," Johnston said. "These kinds of agreements are common and have been utilized over the years in our industry and other places."
In addition to the sales drop, Albertsons said the labor dispute eroded $70 million of its gross profit -- that is, profit before taxes, interest and other items -- in the quarter.
The size of the decline was surprising, said Mark Hugh Sam, an analyst with research firm Morningstar Inc. in Chicago.
But he noted that the three chains incurred expenses early in the dispute, such as costs for training replacement workers, that probably won't be as high.
Hugh Sam also noted that even with the $70-million decline, Albertsons' gross profit in the quarter was $2.5 billion. Albertsons and the two other chains still have plenty of financial heft to weather a longer strike and lockout, he said.