Building Grocery Stores to Fuel Healthy Families
There are many groups working together to end the obesity epidemic, but the problem is so deep-rooted that a single-pronged approach can only address a fraction of the complex disease. The truth of the matter is that if you want to find a solution—one that will outlive your generation—you have to comprehend the problem, the people affected by it and the ecosystem in which they live.
Food Deserts in the Middle of Everything
Urban communities that lack fresh foods and access to healthy options have a descriptive name: food desert. When residents don’t have sources for healthy foods, the result is significantly higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other related health issues. Childhood obesity is especially prevalent in food deserts, particularly in African-American and Hispanic populations. Additionally, without grocery stores in the area, there are economic costs in the form of fewer steady jobs and a lack of retail stores that typically surround grocery stores.
More Than a Grocery Store
Jeff Brown’s story is one that is becoming legend in Philadelphia—and rightfully so. Jeff is teaching cities around the U.S. how to create grocery stores that fuel healthy families, community prosperity and strong partnerships. Jeff brings full-inventory grocery stores to communities that are used to convenience stores and bodegas. These communities finally have access to the breadth and variety of produce and fresh foods that most of us in communities across America take for granted—and he has been able to build a profitable business model that also contributes community benefits in added ways.
At his stores, located in neighborhoods with high dropout rates and few thriving businesses, Jeff offers employee training programs that address challenges like ex-offender reentry, as well as a lack of education and lack of familiarity with standard business practices. He markets traditional foods for culturally diverse groups living in communities near the stores. He’s even developed programs to exchange guns for supermarket gift cards to make communities safer—and increase sales. He’s made a lot of friends in the neighborhood and, equally importantly, he’s built a lucrative business that can grow to other neighborhoods.
For business owners looking to expand to new markets while contributing to a healthier future for children, there’s great news: Jeff Brown’s model is smart and replicable—if you understand the needs of your community, and if you’re a good business person who can partner with others. After initial support from a program like the Food Trust’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), now replicated in multiple nationwide sites, grocery stores that address community needs are usually profitable—even in food deserts.
Power of Partnerships
Why were Jeff Brown, the Food Trust and others able to meet the needs of each unique neighborhood they served? Partnerships. Each player had to establish a commitment to the community. The residents had to trust the grocer and other business owners, and articulate their wants and needs. Influencers in the neighborhoods had to advocate for the grocery stores to generate the initial support. Consumers had to be educated on the benefits of healthy food options so that inventory could be sold and the business could be sustained.
By watching Jeff Brown’s example, we have learned that truly amazing things can happen when you match the opportunity to the context of the environment and community needs.
Partnerships are complicated. All relationships are. We have to listen and try to understand a perspective other than our own. We must respect each other. Working together, we will better understand the environment, motivation and aspirations driving the lives we’re working to improve.
- GIVING REPORT: The Food Trust
- BLOG POST: Sandy Sherman: Childhood obesity—Kids, corner stores and the power of the purse
- BLOG POST: Yael Lehmann: Fighting childhood obesity in Philly: How we got where we are today
- PARTNER RESOURCE: The Food Trust: New report released on healthy food access and why it matters
- PARTNER RESOURCE: Video: Corner stores help clean up obesity
- PARTNER RESOURCE: How Activists Helped Turn the Tide on Childhood Obesity
- PARTNER RESOURCE: Abstract: Snacking in Children: The Role of Urban Corner Stores