Thanks to a two-year pilot launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants in New York state can now select and pay for their groceries online. Learnings from the pilot are expected to shape future efforts to expand online purchasing in SNAP.
“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food – by ordering and paying for groceries online,” noted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance, too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients. We look forward to monitoring how these pilots increase food access and customer service to those we serve, specifically those who may experience challenges in visiting brick-and-mortar stores.”
The system being piloted enables online purchasing only by SNAP households with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards issued by New York. The pilot will test both online ordering and payment. SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to buy eligible food items, but will not be able to use SNAP benefits to pay for service or delivery charges.
Online retailers will be limited to delivery in the pilot areas in New York only. Amazon and Walmart will participate in the initial April 18 pilot launch, with ShopRite joining early next week. ShopRite and Amazon are providing service to the New York City area, while Walmart is covering upstate New York locations.
“We’re pleased to see the online SNAP redemption pilot launch today in parts of New York,” noted Hannah Walker, senior director, technology and nutrition at Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI). The pilot explores the feasibility of using SNAP benefits to shop and pay for groceries online. In just five to seven years, as many as 70 percent of U.S. consumers will regularly purchase consumer packaged goods online, according to FMI research. This pilot program allows individuals of all ages, demographics and accessibility using SNAP to have the same access as other shoppers using ecommerce programs daily.”
Continued Walker: “While today’s launch is limited in stores and geographic areas, we are enthusiastic about the future expansion opportunities for this online retail program. The pilot is the initial step toward a full nationwide deployment of online SNAP sales to improve access and options for SNAP customers.”
Additional retailers are slated to take part in the pilot in coming months, and it will eventually expand to other areas of New York, along with Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
The 2014 Farm Bill authorized USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot for online purchasing prior to national implementation. In 2017, the department selected seven volunteer retailer participants for the pilot, which didn’t originally include Walmart.
“Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn’t be dictated by how you pay,” the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer said in a statement on its website. “This pilot program is a great step forward, and we are eager to expand this to customers in other states where we already have a great online grocery business.”
Along with ShopRite, whose stores are operated by various independent grocers, Rochester-based Hart’s Local Grocers and Buffalo-based Dash’s Market were selected to take part in the pilot back in 2017.
"We were pleased to see a number of independents included in the online pilot program," Laura Strange, VP, industry relations, communications and marketing at the Arlington-based National Grocers Association, which advocates for the independent grocery sector, told Progressive Grocer. "As strong public-private partners in the SNAP program, and true entrepreneurs of the industry, independent grocers are responding to marketplace changes by developing their own successful ecommerce strategies, while differentiating themselves in other areas such as convenience, customer service and in-store experience for the communities they serve, including those who depend on the SNAP safety net."
Added Strange, "I look forward to seeing the next phases of this program."