How to Get Healthy Food Into Corner Stores, Rural Markets

A report from The Food Trust offers ideas and case studies on how to get fruits and vegetables to the customers who historically have had less access to them.

It’s well-documented that the rising rates of diabetes and obesity in the United States haven’t fallen evenly across the population—the poor, minorities, and rural residents are more likely to be affected. African American women are especially likely to be obese.1-2

Improving one’s diet can be easier said than done, however. You can’t eat what you can’t buy, and Americans who rely on corner stores or rural food markets for most or all of their food may not see fresh produce or meat on the shelves. Store owners, 63% of whom are single-store operations, may find these items too costly to or impractical to stock—that is, if they can get these items in the first place.

A recent report, “Healthy Food and Small Stores: Strategies to Close the Distribution Gap,”3 published by The Food Trust with support from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, outlines strategies for getting fresh fruit and vegetables into corner stores and bodegas in cities, and into remote rural markets. These outlets, which number 152,000 across the United States, might not be seen as money-makers by traditional food distributors.

The report features several case studies and offers policy suggestions for state and local governments to make it worthwhile to get healthy food across that “last mile,” the most expensive part of the distribution chain when it reaches the retail outlet—and potential customers.

The policy prescriptions follow the February 2015 report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). In making recommendations for what would become the nation’s official nutrition policy, the panel, for the first time, gathered evidence about US dietary patterns, and declared, “Health disparities exist in population access to affordable healthy food.”4

Thus, DGAC said, it’s not enough to tell individuals and families what to eat—healthy eating on a population basis demands action from society to ensure that people have access to good food in the first place.

Handling perishables challenges small stores, which often lack the knowledge, staff, or suppliers willing to work with them to move the product on a schedule that won’t see the store lose money. Yet customer demands for healthy food are increasing, and the report finds that with creativity, this is an opportunity to be seized.

Recommendations include:

· More research to assess market demands, understand local demographics, and mapping of existing initiatives to find potential partnerships. Expansion of current efforts will require information on what people buy, what they will pay, and what marketing efforts worked.

· Policy efforts at all levels—local, state, and federal—to offer tax incentives to stock healthy foods, support healthy small stores, and eliminate barriers that stop small shops from taking USDA nutrition benefits.

· Corporate support is needed across the board. Suppliers must lower delivery minimums, refrigeration manufacturers are needed to equip small stores to keep produce. Existing programs, such as Partnership for a Healthier America, offer a place to start.

· Create programs to train store owners in managing produce, or alternately, develop partnerships that let small stores lease space to entrepreneurs for “produce only” sections.

References

1. CDC website. 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report. (For rural information, view county level data.) http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/2014statisticsreport.html.

2. CDC website. Adult obesity facts. (For differences by race view obesity prevalence maps.) http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.

3. Bentzel D., Weiss S., Bucknum M. and Shore K. (2015). Healthy Food and Small Stores: Strategies to Close the Distribution Gap. Philadelphia, PA: The Food Trust.

4. Scientific report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/. Published and accessed February 18, 2015.