“Innovations in Food Equity” Depicts Best Industry Practices for Improving Food Access
New York (June 15, 2016) – A new report released today by the Unshared Bounty Project, a policy and advocacy initiative of New York Law School (NYLS), studied five for-profit grocery chains and food retailers nationwide that are making gains in the battle against food deserts. Innovations In Food Equity dissects promising business initiatives by Brown Super Stores, Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Juices For Life and Walmart, finding that in all cases, “success is dependent on engaging with and educating the community and partnering with progressive organizations.” The report is one of a three-part series on food deserts to be completed by the Unshared Bounty Project over the next year.
“Opening a grocery store in an underserved community does not automatically solve the problem of food deserts. Access is important, but meaningful access includes more than just physical proximity. Food must also be affordable and the store must keep the needs and culture of the community in mind,” said Deborah N. Archer, NYLS Professor and Co-Director of the Unshared Bounty Project. “Brown Super Stores, Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Juices For Life, and Walmart have created successful community-based models for alleviating food access disparities.”
Approximately 23.5 million people in the United States live in food deserts — urban and rural communities, typically low-income, with no or severely limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. In recent years, greater numbers of socially responsible businesses have been trying to become part of the food access solution.
Report researchers, including current NYLS students Jessica Bibby, Katelyn Canning, and Vivian DePietro, found three essential commonalities in the five companies they analyzed that were critical to their respective success and could be the roots for wider efforts to alleviate food disparities:
- Engagement is one of the most critical factors. When stores engage the community, discover their needs, and then create a business model that supports and responds to those needs, it provides meaningful access for the members of that community.
- Partnerships are essential. Collaborating with community organizations and agencies increased community engagement. Non-profit and government organizations lend support to and strengthen the success of many of these business initiatives, and are important agents in the fight against food insecurity
- Community-based employees are key. Companies that hired local employees were able to help incrementally improve the overall economic stability of food deserts.
“The companies spotlighted in this report demonstrate the powerful role of business in constructing solutions to tough social problems,” said Tamara C. Belinfanti, NYLS professor and Co-Director of the Unshared Bounty Project.
At Brown Super Stores, a Pennsylvania grocery chain, before they open in a neighborhood, they work with community leaders to learn about their background, religions and countries of origin so that they can provide the right mix of healthy products for their customers that suit their palates and cultural preferences. Recognizing that convenience matters, they take a holistic approach to the consumer experience and in some cases provide credit unions, social workers and health care clinics on-site.
Whole Cities was born out of a Whole Foods Markets’ business model when they opened a store in Detroit in 2011. To successfully reach its intended market, the company embarked on a campaign of local engagement, cultural immersion and consumer education, teaching customers the benefits of healthy food and budgeting basics. Nationwide, Whole Cities partners with community-based organizations that create food access solutions and builds collaborative partnerships where nutritious food access and healthy eating education come together.
Each store in Wegmans New York-based grocery chain supports local community initiatives, food banks, and also accepts suggestions from community members on where donations and sponsorships should be allocated. Recognizing that hunger and poverty issues are interconnected and often food deserts are also “job deserts” with high unemployment rates, Wegmans is committed to hiring the majority of its employees from the local community and offers opportunities for career growth and development.
With the help of Uplift Solutions and other partners, in 2014 rappers Styles P and Jadakiss opened their first Juices For Life, in Yonkers, New York, close to where they were both raised. Young women and men of color, living in low-income neighborhoods, are not the advertising industry’s initial market when thinking about whom to target as health conscious individuals. By having a juice bar co-owned by two respected rappers, Juices For Life has been able to target the demographic that the juicing industry has yet to reach, showing that healthy food is not only for affluent people.
Walmart committed to opening 275-300 stores in food deserts by 2016; by 2014, 224 stores in food deserts across the country had opened. The company encourages preparing meals at home and using more fruits and vegetables, helping families with the learning curve by offering cooking classes and working with them to make the most out of their resources. Walmart also works with other entities to increase food access including Central Kitchen, an organization that seeks to end hunger and rebuild urban food systems with recycled food, culinary lessons, and healthy school meals.
To view the full report and the specific case studies, please click here.
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