Thinking Outside the Big Box: Strategies for Healthy Food Retail


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  • This workshop brings together food advocates, all of you, working on policy, community work, and food enterprise development to explore the question: Are there trade-offs between “access” and “values” when utilizing food retail as a strategy for increasing community food security? If so, how can we reconcile them?Community food security advocates and policymakers have developed creative and successful strategies in the past several years for attracting and improving food retail in underserved communities and increasing access to healthy foods, some of which you will hear about later in this workshop from Heather.Recently first lady Michelle Obama announced a partnership with Wal-Mart, Supervalu and Walgreens to increase food access in underserved communities. This strategy is based on building more big-box stores, with the underlying assumption that building supermarkets in underserved areas will increase access to, and consumption of, healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Another assumption is that this strategy will create needed jobs.As many of you know, food sovereignty and food justice activists have raised a number of critiques of approaches to addressing food security, both nationally and internationally, that can be seen as supporting corporate control of the food system. Globally, this focus has mainly centered on expansion of agribusiness, but as the sustainable foods movement moves increasingly towards “Values-Based Supply Chains,” emphasizing the triple bottom lines of health, environment, and economy, it has shed light on the values embedded not only in production, but across all sectors of the food system, including retail. We see a growing movement against the dominance of corporate food retail.One of the biggest concerns food justice activists have raised is corporate retail’simpact on small businesses and values-based models. The largest corporate chains have huge market power allowing them to offer very low prices for consumers, which independent food retailers often cannot compete with. This can havethe effect of pricing out small businesses.Low prices for consumers often means low prices for producers. A handful of companies controls most of the food retail market, which creates imbalances in bargaining power between these companies, who are buyers of food products, and sellers, which in some cases are farmers. Many of the big chains have started featuring local and organic foods, but because these large companies are price setters in the market, this can often result in low prices paid to producers. Many food justice advocates make the case that this causes more harm than good to small family farmers and leads to continued exploitation of farm workers, since cheap food requires cheap inputs, especially labor. In fact, right after this workshop, there is a Farmworker Justice march from the conference to Trader Joe’s to support rights for workers who harvest the tomatoes sold in its stores, so these issues are not new to many of us at this conference. There are also concerns around food quality and whether bringing big box stores to underserved communities will actually improve nutritional outcomes. The transnational character of some of these companies raises questions about their commitment to the health of the communities in which they locate and whether or not the quality of the products they sell will improve health and nutritional outcomes for food insecure communities.Many have also raised concerns about negative environmental impacts big box stores may have relative to small, locally-based businesses utilizing shorter, locally-based supply chains.And finally, there are huge concerns around labor. Many times when a new supermarket locates in an underserved area, it claims to address the twin goals of increased food security and job creation. However, food worker organizers have raised a myriad of issues about the quality of food retail jobs. Many food retailers do not support the right of their workers to unionize. Common practices of food retailers include offering part-time jobs with low wages and no benefits, hiring workers who do not live in the neighborhoods where the stores are located, and continually moving both workers and managers around to different store locations, so as to create conditions that are not conducive to worker organizing. Because race and class based inequities lie at the root of the injustices faced by food insecure communities and workers in the food system, this raises questions about how effectively corporate supermarkets with questionable labor and purchasing practices can address these root causes.In response to some of these issues, food justice activists often promote community-based innovations to food access. Brahm will touch on some of these, such as mobile markets, urban gardens, produce stands, etc. While often embodying “values”, they can fall short on “impact” because of scale, and may not be able to meet the full range of a community’s food access needs, such as variety and availability of a range of products, long and consistent operating hours, etc.) On the entrepreneurial side, there exist some innovative values-based food retail models, some of which have successfully addressed a broader range of access needs. Brahm will present on some of these later in the workshop.Now Heather’s going to talk about different policy approaches for increasing food access through retail.
  • WelcomeIntroduce myself, PHLPWe help communities understand how planning and economic development processes work, and how to participate in and influence those processes to improve health. Focus on neighborhood livability, healthy food systems
  • WelcomeIntroduce myself, PHLPWe help communities understand how planning and economic development processes work, and how to participate in and influence those processes to improve health. Focus on neighborhood livability, healthy food systems
  • 7. Ten years ago my friend Malaika Edwards and I decided to address this problem. We understood that a grocery store was the best solution for the convenience, selection, and pricing that West Oakland residents needed. Butsince we didn’t have the experience or know-how to run a grocery store, we decided to create smaller-scale food projects that could begin to address the local need while providing us with the experience necessary to eventually open a grocery store.  
  • 8. So in 2002 we founded a nonprofit called People’s Grocery. Our first project was the nation’s first Mobile Market. We converted a delivery truck into a colorful food store on wheels that carried a mix of fresh and packaged foods and drove through the neighborhood stopping at central locations. The Mobile Market served about 1,000 residents a week at about $3,000 in weekly sales. It was great for getting first hand experience marketing fresh foods, building community relationships and gaining insight into the specific wants and needs of residents.
  • 9. People’s Grocery has developed other food projects including neighborhood gardens, produce stands, a snack delivery program and a fresh produce delivery service called the Grub Box, which continues to run today delivering 150 boxes of produce a week.
  • 3. West Oakland residents collectively spend $58M a year on groceries, which is enough spending power to support multiple food retail stores in the area.
  • 4. Nonetheless, West Oakland is underserved by 70% of its demand for groceries and over $40M in annual food spending leaks out of the community, going to stores in other areas.
  • Over many years of interacting with and listening to West Oakland residents we have gained some insight into the wants and needs of this demographic and the elements that are necessary to satisfy those wants and needs. A retail store must be in a central and accessible location with a high level of visibility, population density and transportation.It must be large enough to offer a broad and diverse selection of products across many different categories. It must provide targeted offerings that cater to the unique preferences and cultural interests of the local area.It must offer affordable prices relative to other options within the neighborhood as well as accept food stamps. Fresh and quality foods must be a central focus as these are the most lacking options in the neighborhood.Prepared foods are also very much needed as there are few restaurants and cafes where families can have a hot meal.In addition to foods products, many residents desire to have more places in the community where they can gather and socialize. And we have found that many residents are making connections between their diets and their health and are seeking out support for improving their health.
  • 11. A central premise in creating People’s Community Market is that supermarket chain stores aren’t well designed for the specific characteristics and needs of lower-income neighborhoods and, as a result, face particular barriers in these markets. These are some of the issues that supermarket chains face in lower-income areas. We believe that new retail models are needed that are better designed for these communities and the unique needs that they have. We also see that independent grocers who are locally rooted can more effectively mitigate these barriers and provide the deeper community engagement necessary to succeed. We’re creating an independent retail business that employs our social capital, insight and experience to craft a retail solution for West Oakland.
  • 13. We plan to build a 12,000 sq ft pavilion. This simpler and smaller design will help keep development costs low, match our inventory to the smaller fill-in purchases of low-income shoppers and enable us to build the store at the optimal location.
  • 14. Our store will still be large enough to provide adequate selection for our customers’ shopping needs. We’ll carry a full-line product assortment with broad selection across all categories while stocking about 40% of the products carried by supermarkets. We’ll achieve this through a SKU optimization strategy that offers a large selection of categories without a large number of redundant SKUs in each category.
  • 15. Our product mix will be targeted to the specific wants and needs of the community. This includes fresh produce and packaged perishable products such as meat, seafood and dairy. Our plan is to procure fresh foods in volume directly from producers in order to keep prices affordable. We’re working with two seasoned independent grocers who have been successful at reducing their inventory costs through volume and direct procurement.
  • 16. Our full-service deli will also be a key offering and will have a unique menu targeted to the cultural interests of the local area. We believe that a strong prepared foods program featuring ethnic foods that the community loves will enhance our value proposition, bring many more people into our store, and be a key driver of our sales and margin growth.
  • 17. More than a grocery store. This is a central principle of the PCM brand. It’s the idea that food stores can do more to support their communities beyond food retail, that food stores can provide great experiences, positive social space & social interactions, and services & education for improving health. Our store is being designed to address these needs, not only because we have a social mission, but because we believe that these offerings will actually enhanceour value proposition and make us a destination in the community. Instead of absorbing the cost of providing these offerings to our customers, we plan to partner with community and health organizations to deliver these offerings for us. This will enable us to cost effectively provide services and leverage the competencies of our partners while allowing our management team to focus on retail operations.
  • A central feature of PCM will be a 3500 sq ft semi-outdoor venue called the Front Porch. The Front Porch will be a place where community members can gather, socialize, share a meal and enjoy various events and performances.The Front Porch will feature a patio, family-style seating, a stage and a children’s play area. The Front Porch will also feature an evening service window from the Deli which will allow prepared foods to continue to be served after the store has closed.
  • We have many advisors who are helping us. Two that have been very active are: James Hooks is Founder and President of Metro Foodland, which is the only African American owned and operated supermarket in Detroit. Brian Rohter is Founder and Chairman of New Seasons Market which operates 10 stores in Portland, OR.
  • We will work to support the community’s aspirations for better health. We’ll partner with nonprofit and health organizations to provide services such as:In Store DemonstrationsNutrition CounselingHealth ScreeningsAdditionally, we’ll employ a variety of incentives to encourage healthier eating. This is an image of a healthy rewards card program that has been developed by a store in Detroit called Metro Foodland. They just launched this program a month ago and, to our knowledge, it’s the first such program in the country. We’re working with Metro Foodland and planning to implement a very similar program.
  • We have many advisors who are helping us. Two that have been very active are: James Hooks is Founder and President of Metro Foodland, which is the only African American owned and operated supermarket in Detroit. Brian Rohter is Founder and Chairman of New Seasons Market which operates 10 stores in Portland, OR.
  • We have many advisors who are helping us. Two that have been very active are: James Hooks is Founder and President of Metro Foodland, which is the only African American owned and operated supermarket in Detroit. Brian Rohter is Founder and Chairman of New Seasons Market which operates 10 stores in Portland, OR.
  • We have many advisors who are helping us. Two that have been very active are: James Hooks is Founder and President of Metro Foodland, which is the only African American owned and operated supermarket in Detroit. Brian Rohter is Founder and Chairman of New Seasons Market which operates 10 stores in Portland, OR.
  • Now we’re going to break into 3 groups who will each develop policy, community, or other innovations to address 3 different goals. Everyone can pick which group they’d like to join. Each group will get a set of questions to help guide the discussion. Each group will be assigned a facilitator, but someone should volunteer to be a recorder/notetaker.
  • Thinking Outside the Big Box: Strategies for Healthy Food Retail

    1. 1. Thinking outside the Big Box:Strategies for Healthy Food Retail Community Food Security Coalition Conference November 6, 2011 Brahm Ahmadi, People’s Community Market Heather Wooten, Public Health Law & Policy Sabrina Wu, HOPE Collaborative
    2. 2. Agenda• Welcome and presenter intros• Icebreaker• Overview and framing of issue• Policies for healthy food retail• Values-based food retail• Small group exercise• Small group reportbacks• Closing and evaluations
    3. 3. Icebreaker• Name• Organization or where you are from• What interests you about this topic?
    4. 4. Access vs. Values?
    5. 5. ThinkingOutside Policiesthe Big Box for Grocery Heather Wooten, MCP This material cannot be copied or reproduced without permission. ©2011
    6. 6. market forces + public policy =“food landscape”
    7. 7. 3 key ways policies work:  Require  Incentivize  Restrict
    8. 8. REQUIRECondition neighborhood markets(convenience stores) at the timeof development review toincorporate the sale of freshfruits and vegetables. Watsonville, CA
    9. 9. INCENTIVIZE Buildings containing fresh food markets are allowed one additional square foot of floor area for each square foot of fresh food market floor area included within the building PHILADELPHIA, PA (DRAFT)
    10. 10. INCENTIVIZE The first 10,000 sq. ft. of floor area in a fresh food market is exempt from minimum off-street parking requirements. PHILADELPHIA, PA (DRAFT)
    11. 11. RESTRICT …proposal will not adversely affect adjacent or nearby public parks or schools OAKLAND, CA
    12. 12. public resources community benefit
    13. 13. Public resources:FinancingTax incentivesPlanning & zoningSite/location assistance
    14. 14. Community benefit:Local hire policyLiving wage policyLabor lawsStocking requirementsEBT/WIC
    15. 15. Tools & Resources
    16. 16. DisclaimerThe information provided in this seminar is forinformational purposes only, and does not constitute legaladvice. Public Health Law & Policy does not enter intoattorney-client relationships.The primary purpose of this training is to address legaland/or policy options to improve public health. There is nointent to reflect a view on specific legislation. PHLPincorporates objective non-partisan analysis, study, andresearch in all our work. ©2011
    17. 17. Heather Wooten,
    18. 18. Mobile Market
    19. 19. Produce Stands Grub Box CSA
    20. 20. $58,000,000 Annually
    21. 21. West Oakland Grocery Demand Demand Served 70% Demand Unserved =$40.6M
    22. 22. Customer Needs•Central and accessible•Broad & diverse selection•Targeted offerings•Affordable prices•Fresh & quality foods•Prepared foods•Gathering & social space•Health services & supports
    23. 23. Barriers for Supermarket Chains •High development costs •Employee turnover •Product shrinkage •Limited customization •Limited engagementNew business models are needed
    24. 24. •Lower development costs•Fit to purchasing patterns•Fit to real estate limitations
    25. 25. •Full-line product assortment•40% of items of supermarkets•Semi-outdoor patio and stage
    26. 26. Signature Offerings•Fresh produce•Perishables•Ethnic foods •Volume sourcing •Direct purchasing •Affordable prices
    27. 27. •Full service deli •Targeted menu •Ethnic dishes •Sunday BBQ •Enhances and attracts•Sales and margin growth
    28. 28. •Great experiences •Positive social space •Events & entertainment •Services and educationEnhances value proposition
    29. 29. •3,500 sq ft semi-outdoor•Patio & seating•Stage and play area•Evening service window
    30. 30. •Only Black ownedJames Hooks supermarket in Detroi •27 years in operation •Community relationships •Innovator in health supports and services
    31. 31. •Earn Points on healthy products•Discounts on healthy products•Targeted coupons and special offers•Personalized customer reports•Measure progress on annual goals
    32. 32. •7 of 11 store in underserved areasJeff Brown •Opens where no one will •Top performing grocer •Customized product mixes •Partnerships & programs
    33. 33. Direct and volume procurement
    34. 34. Small group exerciseGoals:1. Create full-service food retail in underserved areas with high health, sustainability, and labor standards2. Increase demand for “good food,” which is more expensive, among low-income consumers3. Support start-up and long-term financial sustainability of locally owned, community- based food retail that appropriately serves low- income communities
    35. 35. Small group questions1. What policies or other tools do you already know of that deal with this issue, if any?2. How effective are these strategies? Where do they fall short?3. How would you propose to revise them to better achieve the goal? Or what are some better solutions?4. How would you engage the community— or how are they already engaged—in the recommendations you are proposing?
    36. 36. Thank you!