Success Factors

There are many available strategies and policy opportunities to address these challenges.

Reduce costs.

  • Collaborate. Creative collaborations can help smaller stores address the challenges of higher wholesale costs. Small stores can collaborate to leverage their collective buying power and engage in joint purchasing to get the lowest prices. Collaboration can allow the stores to meet the minimum purchase requirements set by many large distributors. If retailers are located far from wholesalers’ warehouses, they can avoid paying costly delivery fees by setting up a common shipping point closer to the wholesaler, and then pick up products individually or take turns picking up products for the group.
  • Implement green building strategies. Store improvements that call for renovation present numerous opportunities for “going green.” When retrofitting, retailers should consider the energy efficiency of the store and/or use of renewable energy sources and use environmentally friendly building materials. In addition to the environmental benefits, these strategies can cut costs—e.g., energy-efficient refrigerators, lighting, and appliances can lower electric bills and usually pay for themselves within a couple of years. Local, state, and federal government programs should provide grant and loan financing to support the use of high-performance energy appliances and green building and renovation practices for food retail projects in low-income, underserved areas.
  • Link with farmers and wholesalers. Corner stores and other food retailers can connect to local farmers to purchase high quality, affordable healthy food. These stores also can work with small distributors who pick up food from large distributors’ warehouses and deliver it to participating stores. As long as the trade areas of corner stores do not have significant overlap with larger retailers, these larger retailers are sometimes willing to engage in joint purchasing with the smaller stores. This strategy allows smaller vendors to take advantage of the low costs that larger merchants enjoy because of the scale of their purchasing.

Reduce the risk for corner stores willing to try stocking produce.

Mobile vending carts carrying fresh fruits and vegetables are another way for communities to increase access to healthy foods in underserved areas and provide economic opportunities for low-income entrepreneurs. Efforts to expand healthy food vending must find ways to attract the interest of current or new vendors, and address food safety issues that accompany healthy food. In New York, researchers estimate that the introduction of new city permits for approximately 1,000 Green Carts in underserved neighborhoods will increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables for at least 75,000 New Yorkers. In Kansas City, Missouri, the park and recreation department offers preferred locations and discounts on permits to mobile vendors with the healthiest offerings. In Oakland, California, around 30 Mexican American street vendors, or fruteros, were selling fresh fruits and vegetables and hot tamales, but their carts were subject to police citation and even seizure because of sanitation concerns. To address the issue, the vendors organized, formed a partnership with the local public health department and other stakeholders, and created a mutual aid corporation. In addition, they developed a jointly operated and city-approved commercial kitchen, purchased approved push carts, and petitioned the City of Oakland to create an ordinance allowing street vending of healthy food.

Pick the right retailers.

Attract customers and identify ways to capitalize on customer spending power.

Connect stores with government resources.

  • Secure financing for corner store improvement. Various arms of local government such as redevelopment agencies and health departments can collaborate to improve small stores. When new funding is not available, existing resources should be used creatively to target stores in low-income communities. For example, the City of San Francisco was able to use tobacco prevention funds to shift the product mix at several local small stores, which primarily used to sell tobacco and alcohol but now are shifting towards sales of healthy foods. States and the federal government can create an innovations fund, similar to the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, to support corner store improvement by providing funding for business plan development, feasibility studies, refrigeration units and supplies needed to store and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables, technical assistance, and other conversion costs.
  • Connect stores with small business development resources. Cities usually make available an array of financial and technical assistance resources to small businesses (generally defined as those with sales of up to $750,000 per year) located in underserved communities. These resources can be directed to stores that are willing to improve their selection of healthy foods and/or institute new practices to better meet the needs of low-income customers. Retailers could take out low-cost loans to outfit a store to sell produce and buy initial new stock produce. They could take advantage of technical assistance to help them tailor their merchandise to community needs, train employees in how to buy and sell perishable goods, market their new products, and improve their general business planning. To improve the overall quality of corner stores and to make them more appealing shopping sites, city agencies and community organizations can conduct outreach to small stores to increase their awareness of existing resources. They can also create small business programs that are specifically tailored to the financial and training needs of neighborhood grocers.

Include mobile vending.