In many communities that lack supermarkets and grocery stores, families in urban and rural areas depend on corner stores and other small-scale stores to purchase food. The choices at these stores are often limited to packaged food and very little, if any, fresh produce or healthy snacks. Improving the product mix at smaller stores and addressing other issues of viability—such as sourcing and distribution, pricing, food quality and freshness and customer service—are strategies that build upon existing community resources to enhance access to healthy food in underserved areas.
Some examples of corner store efforts across the country include the following:
- The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- South Los Angeles Healthy Eating Active Communities (HEAC) Initiative and Public Matters Market Makeovers in Los Angeles, California
- The Center for Health Equity’s Healthy in a Hurry Corner Stores in Louisville, Kentucky
- Healthy Corner Store Initiative in Providence, Rhode Island
The National Healthy Corner Stores Network (HCSN) supports efforts to increase the availability and sales of healthy, affordable foods through small-scale stores in underserved communities.
The Food Trust has dedicated several resources to supporting healthy corner store work (see here).
Improving corner and convenience stores is less complex and costly than constructing a new store, and builds on existing community resources. However, smaller scale corner store projects have some challenges.
- Competing with the price, quality, and selection advantages of grocery stores. Small-scale stores do not have the buying power that can translate into lower prices for consumers.
- Sourcing, pricing, and stocking produce requires knowledge and proper refrigeration units or adequate shelf space.
The PolicyLink report Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: Promising Strategies to Improve Access to Fresh, Healthy Food and Transform Communities includes a guide to help store owners overcome the challenges of improving healthy food offerings at corner stores. Strategies to deal with these challenges include the following.
- Reduce the risk, and the costs, for small stores. Community groups can encourage small stores to increase shelf space for fresh produce by documenting unmet demand, subsidizing the additional costs, and providing managers with tips to help them buy, sell, and display produce. To reduce costs, store owners can collaborate with other stores to jointly buy foods from local farmers.
- Pick the right retailer. Improvement efforts are most successful when merchants are genuinely receptive to selling healthier products and willing to invest in improving long-term viability. Efforts focused on corner stores near schools can help ensure that healthier food and beverage choices are available for children during their school day.
- Increase and capitalize on customer spending power. Advocates can promote resident participation in nutrition assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women with Infants and Children program (WIC) to bolster the purchasing power of local residents, while ensuring that retailers accept WIC and SNAP benefit cards. Community organizations can promote stores that offer healthier food.
In addition to city and statewide financing initiatives that support grocery projects across the country, other policies support corner store development in underserved communities. See the View Policy Efforts by State page for more information.
Tools and Resources
Key Resources for Funding Corner Stores
Because fresh food access is a key issue affecting communities across the country, state and local funding programs have been created specifically for fresh food retail projects, including corner stores. The National Healthy Corner Store Network (HSCN) serves as a great resource to learn more about fresh food retail funding programs in corner stores across the country.
Other Key Resources
- Fresh Food and Vegetables Marketing Guide, California Department of Public Health
- Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, The Food Trust and PolicyLink
- Healthy Corner Store Toolkit: Sell Healthy! Guide, The Food Trust
- Healthy Food and Small Stores: Strategies to Close the Distribution Gap In Underserved Communities, The Food Trust
- The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Campaign
- Good. To Go. San Jose Healthy Corner Store Program, The Health Trust
- Market Makeovers
- National Healthy Corner Store Network
- Voices for Healthy Kids Campaign
- Tracking Healthy Food Sales, ChangeLab Solutions
- Convenience Store Distribution Options for Fresh Produce, National Association of Convenience Stores and the United Fresh Produce Association
- Perspectives of Urban Corner Store Owners and Managers on Community Health Problems and Solutions, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Louisville's Shawnee Market, Louisville, Kentucky: Shawnee Market used $20,000 of a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant (an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that funds 50 communities to reduce chronic disease related to obesity and tobacco) to purchase refrigeration units, display racks, new signs, and construction improvements. The improvements are coordinated by the Healthy in a Hurry initiative of the Healthy Hometown Movement and its partner, the YMCA.
- Philadelphia’s Christian Food Market, Philadelphia, PA: The Christian Food Market, located in south Philadelphia, is a community hub where many residents go to buy their groceries. In April 2011, the store upgraded to offer healthier foods including adding a single door refrigerator and a produce rack and baskets, which allowed the store to greatly increase its inventory of fresh produce and low-fat dairy products. After introducing the products, the store became certified to participate in the nutrition assistance program, Women with Infants and Children (WIC).