Supermarkets can be heroes in food swamps.
There has been little good news when it comes to obesity rates. Besides the fact the rise in obesity for two to 19 year olds has leveled off over the past few years, the literal weight of our nation has become a leading threat to our health, economy, security and the future of our children. Sadly, more than one in three adults and one in six children are obese.
For quite some time researchers put their focus on food deserts and the mounting problems in disadvantaged neighborhoods where there was little access to healthy food. But the belief that building supermarkets in these communities would result in people making healthier food choices has been challenged, and some studies show that it makes little difference.
In addition, food access has been measured and mapped by the USDA, but with also income level taken into account. That data has led some studies to show poverty is much more of a factor when it comes to issue of food access and poor diet.
But now research published in November of 2017 is changing the conversation from food deserts to food swamps. This study points at areas with an overabundance of fast food. While the research does show that little access to healthy food means less consumption of fruits and vegetables and higher rates of obesity, it also shows that over access to unhealthy food can be an even better predictor for obesity rates.
It’s understandable how it happens. For some struggling financially and finding themselves surrounded by inexpensive fast food choices, and also take into account challenges of work schedules and transportation options that come with poverty, choosing fast food is sometimes seems like the easiest way to be fed.
Supermarkets can offer solutions. Retail dietitians are a great resource for offering guidance to families on a budget that also deal with the issue of little time to prepare meals, and they should keep doing that and make even more effort to reach out to their low income communities. But there’s also another way grocery stores can help.
More and more supermarkets across the nation are taking the concept of their store’s grocerant to new levels, and it is within these offerings, there’s opportunity to compete with fast food, with better-for-you food. In fact, while your grocerant may serve premium dishes, host a wine and coffee bar or a sushi bar, it is important to not intimidate the customer with less money. Make sure those customers know that you have quick grab-n-go salads, sliders, soups, protein packs, and deli sandwiches that don’t really cost more than a combo at a fast food restaurant. Offer free coffee or a free fountain soda between certain hours to sweeten the deal.
And keep in mind, there are many ways to make your store’s grocerant more inviting and attractive with decor, seating and music. Make it feel like a community hub. A meeting ground, a place where people can connect with others if they want, rather than whipping through a drive thru and having little contact with others.
Your store may already offer these things, but it may not be an option that comes immediately to mind for many of your potential regulars that live in close proximity. Offer coupons to bring in new customers, promote your menu and offerings on social media, and set up stations outside when the weather is nice. Reach out to your community and let them know you understand the problem of needing quick, inexpensive food, and you’ve got that problem solved for them.
The time has come to wage war on obesity and junk food, and with grocerants at the forefront of this, real changes in people’s health can be made. And shopper loyalty will follow.