The SNAP Program’s New Path On The Internet

The Lempert Report
September 22, 2016

Thrive Market is trying to update the almost $75 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the millions of Americans that are enrolled. But, how are they hoping to achieve this?

Gunnar Lovelace, co-CEO of Thrive Market, a business he described to TIME magazine as an Internet-only cross between Whole Foods, Toms Shoes and Costco, wants to change that. He recently launched a petition to that effect aimed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture with backing from brands like Clif Bar, affordable food nonprofits and celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and Russell Simmons. 

Thrive Market's business model is unique for food retailers: for every $60 shopping membership it sells, it gives another membership to a low-income family for free. The dilemma for Thrive is that many of these low-income families aren't able to take advantage of the service because they rely on food stamps to cover expenses. Lovelace told TIME: It’s also interesting that a lot of families that don’t speak English, don’t have dedicated Internet at home, they’re still on smartphones, the penetration of smartphones is really astounding. People will pay their phone bill before they pay their rent.   

The Los Angeles startup was founded with a social good bent rooted in Lovelace's own experience growing up poor with a single mother. The idea is to sell organic specialty foods at a more affordable price than brick-and-mortar stores. The company does so by cutting out supply chain middlemen that mark up prices in the traditional grocery market. To date, Thrive has over 300,000 members, and hoping that number increases significantly by the USDA allowing SNAP recipients, who often live in food deserts and have limited accessibility to transportation, to shop online.