Across Philadelphia, more than 600 corner stores have signed pledges to healthy stock food in exchange for staff training, technical assistance, and financial support. These efforts are helping turn a corner store into a place where consumers can find fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods.
A recent study found that elementary students visit corner stores an average of once a day and purchase 350 calories of unhealthy snacks. While these visits may seem minor, the extra calories can increase over time.
YMCA Veggie Van
With a shortage of grocery stores in their neighborhoods, people living in low-income areas are struggling to buy fresh produce for themselves and their families. That’s why the YMCA Veggie Van is a great resource for those in need.
The Y’s mobile marketplace brings fresh fruits and vegetables to target communities labeled food deserts in Hillsborough and East Pasco counties. The program aims to provide nutritious foods and help improve the overall well-being of residents by encouraging healthier food preparation, cooking, and exercise habits.
Since 2010, the Y’s Veggie Van has delivered fresh produce to more than 1,000 individuals and families at distribution locations, demonstrating the need for nutritional wellness. This includes senior housing, community centers, and low-income schools.
As part of the Y’s work with SNAP-Ed, Veggie Van staff, and volunteers offer recipes, healthy eating tips, and education about preparing nutritious meals. They also accept Bridge Cards, WIC Project FRESH, Senior Project Fresh/Market FRESH, SNAP EBT, and Double Up Food Bucks’ to assist participants in meeting their daily nutritional needs.
In Muskegon, the Y’s Veggie Van travels to several senior housing locations and stops at Scott Meats on the first three Mondays of each month. These stops are free to seniors who pay with their SNAP benefits and can pick fruits and vegetables.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Y’s Veggie van has made some changes to ensure safety. During stops, the Y’s coordinator and drivers wear gloves and masks to protect themselves from contamination. Moreover, the Veggie Van has increased the number of visits in the area and is now placing bags 6 feet away from one another to prevent contamination.
The Y’s Veggie Van has helped improve access to fresh fruit and vegetables in Grand Rapids by connecting small-scale growers and distributors with urban corner stores. It’s a great example of how the Y can partner with local businesses to improve the health and well-being of residents.
The Y’s Veggie Van is an important tool in its ongoing work to promote the health and well-being of all Michigan residents. It’s a valuable and sustainable way for the Y to help families make healthier food choices while preserving cultural food traditions.
Cooking demonstrations are a great way to promote healthy food options and improve nutrition. They also provide a fun, interactive experience for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about healthy eating.
In many impoverished areas, corner stores (also called convenience stores or bodegas) are a crucial part of the local food system because they are typically the only place where families can access fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk, and other nutritious items. Without these foods, people often have poorer health and suffer from chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes.
When the Y’s Veggie Van visits participating corner stores, they provide cooking demonstrations to show how to prepare healthy recipes using fresh produce. This helps customers learn how to make simple dishes full of nutrient-rich foods, such as a cantaloupe salad or a fruit cup.
The Y’s Veggie Van also works with small-scale farmers to increase product availability in the community. This program is part of the Y’s commitment to reforming our local food system, helping corner store owners sell more products, and encouraging consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables.
One of the benefits of this program is that it helps eliminate food waste. Before the Y’s initiative began, corner stores in the area tended to throw away around six percent of their fresh produce each month. Monthly reports show that the amount of waste has dropped to almost zero.
Another benefit of this program is that it gives corner store owners a chance to learn more about the importance of selling more fresh produce. They also get to see the results of their efforts firsthand, as the Y’s Veggie Van brings them new fresh fruits and vegetables every week!
In addition to the Y’s Veggie Van, Healthy Corner Store Program staff also visit the stores regularly to help them sell more products and conduct nutrition education. They work closely with the stores to determine what products to stock and how to display them, and they assist with marketing campaigns. They also teach the stores how to use their products creatively to attract new customers.
Many families purchase food from corner stores, convenience stores, or bodegas. While these outlets are often considered nutritional wastelands, they can offer healthy food choices that reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
To address this need, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative helps corner store owners expand their selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. The initiative provides marketing materials, equipment, and training to help owners make healthier customer decisions.
The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative works with local corner stores, distributors, and community residents to promote the availability of nutritious foods in urban neighborhoods. It also helps communities develop policies supporting healthy food and beverage options in corner stores.
For example, a health policy council can advocate for better labeling packaged products and promote healthy food choices. The Food Trust also supports community benefit programs that can assist with restorative food marketing materials or provide health screenings and nutrition education activities.
In addition, hospital community benefit programs can provide resources that make it easier for people with limited resources to access healthy foods. For example, the Cleveland Clinic has a program that provides vouchers for low-income children to buy wholesome foods at area corner stores.
This program is a great example of how SNAP-Ed can partner with hospitals to improve access to healthy foods for the entire community. It focuses on increasing the inventory of nutritious food in small stores, promoting more accurate labeling, and providing education to help community members make better choices.
A recent commentary25 on the feasibility and impact of corner store interventions highlights the importance of establishing strong relationships with both customers and storeowners, encouraging change at the infrastructure and systems level in stores, and tailoring initiatives to meet the specific needs of each store. To evaluate the impact of the healthy corner store intervention, FFORC used a tracking sheet to assess sales of promoted foods, weekly fidelity checks to assess fidelity to the intervention and data collection, and semi-structured interviews to evaluate storeowner satisfaction.
Across the United States, communities with limited access to supermarkets and grocery stores are more likely to have higher rates of obesity and diet-related disease than those with greater access. Providing healthier options at corner stores, bodegas, and other small stores can help address these health disparities and promote community wellness by increasing access to healthy foods and decreasing the demand for highly processed corn- and soy-based snacks and beverages that contribute to high rates of disease and poor diets.
Despite the many benefits of providing more options for fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods, small store owners often need help to sell these products, including sourcing, distribution, infrastructure, and product placement issues. In addition, competition from larger grocery stores can limit their ability to offer healthy choices and increase costs for shoppers.
In response to these challenges, hospitals and other public health agencies are developing healthy retail initiatives that focus on improving the products and offerings of small stores as a means to combat unhealthy eating patterns and reduce food insecurity. These strategies align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to encourage residents to make healthier food choices.
These efforts focus on building partnerships with community organizations, such as schools, local healthcare facilities, and other community-based organizations, on gaining store owners’ buy-in and support. Moreover, they aim to create long-term sustainability through incentives and program support that motivate store owners to stock and promote healthy options.
One such initiative launched in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco demonstrates how public-private partnerships can improve public health outcomes while simultaneously achieving business goals. It convinced store owners to invest in more productive, improving healthy inventory levels and customer purchases in participating bodegas.
While some customers may need time to adjust their purchasing habits, promoting new, healthy items in small stores is a worthwhile and sustainable investment with a wide-ranging community impact. In addition, the environmental changes associated with healthy retail initiatives are considered a key component of comprehensive obesity prevention strategies. They can also be a cost-effective way to increase the healthfulness of food choices offered in neighborhoods considered “food deserts.”