The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has released “Access to Healthier Foods: Opportunities and Challenges for Food Retailers in Underserved Areas,” a research resource exploring the obstacles supermarkets often face when seeking to expand service into the underserved areas known as “food deserts.” The paper additionally discusses factors that encourage store development in low-access areas and illustrates some of the inventive ways supermarkets are boosting access to more nutritious food for people in underserved communities.
“As an industry committed to feeding families and enriching lives, food retailers recognize the need to provide healthier food to underserved areas,” noted Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based FMI, “but long-term success demands this be accomplished in fiscally and socially responsible ways. Overcoming the multiple hurdles inhibiting store development in areas deserving service requires the very best cooperative efforts of government, community and industry, and even then it takes time. Meanwhile, many food retailers have responded to the magnitude and immediacy of this problem by thinking beyond brick-and-mortar solutions, offering imaginative ways to improve access to healthier food.”
In May, FMI and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) were the co-facilitators of a conversation among federal government officials, representatives of several government agencies, and members of the food retail industry on the nationwide issue of improving access to healthier food in underserved areas. This conversation was the basis of the research published in “Access to Healthier Foods: Opportunities and Challenges for Food Retailers in Underserved Areas.”
The industry resource probes such barriers to supermarket development as inadequate demographic base, high investment costs, high operating costs and food assistance program policies. Because of these obstacles, supermarkets are looking into alternative ideas that include smaller-store formats, expanded grocery delivery systems and enhanced transportation options. Further, FMI research notes the factors aiding food access initiatives, among them community development corporations (CDCs), financial incentives such as tax credits and grants, local government support, using local champions, and sharing success stories and ideas.