FRESH PRODUCE TRENDS<br />What Grocers Need to Know About WIC&#8217;s Healthy Changes

Changes to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which will expand participants’ options to include fresh fruit and vegetables, require grocers nationwide to take note and follow some simple guidelines to ensure a smooth implementation phase, according to Brenda Berry, WIC account executive with St. Louis Park, Minn.-based MoneyGram International.

Two key changes that will directly impact grocers with WIC - the USDA-funded, state-agency-administered program that provides supplemental nutritional foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income women, infants, and children up to age five -- include the allowance of fresh fruits and vegetables to be prescribed to participants, and the purchase of fruits and vegetables that will be transacted with a separate Cash Value Check (CVC).

To that end, Berry offers grocers the following guidelines and helpful tips to better clarify implications of the changes in anticipation of their implementation on Oct. 1, 2009:

1) Find out your WIC Program’s implementation date. The final implementation date is Oct. 1, 2009; however, some WIC programs have already begun the process.

2) Determine what the volume of CVC distribution will be for the first four months of the implementation. Most WIC programs issue up to three months’ worth of checks at a time to a participant to allow for staggered participant flow through clinics. This means that not all WIC participants in the program will have CVCs on the first month of implementation, but all participants should have CVCs by the fourth month. The implication to the grocer is that it will receive a lower amount of CVCs during the first months of implementation and will need a lower quantity of fruits and vegetables.

3) Attend WIC-provided training. Shawn Brown, an Oklahoma WIC vendor coordinator, says, “There are three main parts to the success of this program change: train, train and train!” Brown recommends that grocers attend WIC-provided training, and in turn train internal staff and retrain associates as specific issues with CVCs arise. “Front end managers, internal trainers and customer service reps can all benefit from the WIC-provided training,” he adds.

4) Be proactive. “Do the work up front, not at the checkout,” notes Johanna Mason, a New Jersey WIC health representative. She also recommends for the first few months of the implementation to have additional staff in the produce section to help WIC participants and encourage them to weigh their produce before checkout. Additional strategies for grocers include the permanent display of “WIC Approved” signs and easy access to produce scales.

5) Prepare for stocking requirements in the produce section. Variety will be necessary with both fruits and vegetables. Find out from your WIC program exactly what will be required in volume and variety. Work with your WIC vendor management staff to determine stocking requirements for your store, based on your current WIC participant flow and the required variety of fruits and vegetables.

6) Maintain dialogue with your WIC vendor manager. Since state WIC programs have control over the details of the implementation of these changes, there are many specifics that will affect the grocer that can only be communicated by the local WIC program. For instance, it will vary by state whether WIC allows multiple tender for produce purchased over the dollar amount on the CVC.

Parting Thought: By taking some proactive measures and communicating early and often with WIC vendor managers, grocers are poised to play a positive and important role in ensuring that the changes to the WIC program are a success.

For more information, contact Berry at 913-220- 2263 or [email protected].
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