Can Supermarkets Tackle Food Poverty?

The Lempert Report
February 23, 2015

Could Britain's "Community Shop" system be a lesson in fighting food poverty?

A new supermarket in the UK is taking a unique approach in it's attempt to tackle food poverty.   It's called "Community Shop" and it offers low-income customers, heavily discounted food. But there's a catch.  In return, the store requires customers to sign up for a program of social support and advice, everything from life skills to debt counseling. The goal is to not only address immediate issues of hunger, but also tackle at least some of the causes, and make a profit doing so. At the moment, there are only two "Community Shops", one in Yorkshire and one in South London.  

The "Community Shops" are getting some praise from governments and gaining some traction. A recent report called, "Feeding Britain" pushed to roll the model out nationally. And another study by the thinktank "Demos"  is similarly enthusiastic, calling for food banks to convert themselves into Community Shop-type operations, noting that while food banks are serving a similar purpose, they are more focused around emergency situations and not so much the chronic food poverty issue. 

So could supermarkets here in the States offer a similar kind of program?  Perhaps a large store like Walmart could be a likely retailer to offer something similar to debt counseling services. They already, for example, are offering low cost checking accounts. Just last year they teamed up with Green Dot Bank to initiate this new account, branded GoBank, and it includes a MasterCard debit card and checking. There will be no minimum balance fees, overdraft charges or monthly fees as long as customers have $500 or more placed in the account through direct deposit. So Walmart is already marketing to customers who need more help financially. Why not add to this a counseling program?  Or even neighborhood supermarkets,  what if they offered money management and life skills classes to customers for a six month period, and during that time customers who take the class, also get a discount on food?

Creating a support system for those who are struggling financially not only helps the community,  but also creates a trust and a loyal customer base.