Small-box retailers such as dollar stores are being required by more and more communities with no grocery stores to carry some fresh foods.
In Oklahoma City, the Wall Street Journal reports the city council is considering a plan requiring new retailers in the area to designate at least 500 square feet of space to fresh food.
CNN Business published a story recently called “Dollar stores are everywhere. That’s a problem for poor Americans.”
The article notes rising numbers of dollar stores upset some politicans who believe the discount chains “stifle local competition and limit poor communities’ access to healthy food.
Dollar General and Dollar Tree combine for more than 30,000 stores throughout the U.S. and company officials believe there is room in the market for many thousands more. By way of contrast, Walmart has a paltry 4,700 stores, according to the article.
The USDA offers a visualization of food deserts online in a tool known as the Food Environment Atlas. The Wall Street Journal reports the USDA estimates that 39 million people, or 12.8 percent of the population live in food deserts, with few fresh food choices close by and access to transportation is limited.
As a way to counter the effect of food deserts, the USDA also is involves the Healthy Food Finacing Initiative, which distributes some grants to improve fresh food access in under-served communities.
Recent publicity about dollar stores adding fresh produce may be overstated. The Wall Street Journal notes that soon, 650 Dollar General locations will sell produce. However, this is still only just 4.1 percent of the company’s 16,000 stores.
States have been engaged with the issue as well but have tended toward the carrot more than the stick:
- Nevada lawmakers last year supported legislation providing providing for tax credits for businesses investing in certain fresh food retailers based in underserved communities and similar areas;
- A Mississippi bill was passed and signed by the governor last year known as the Small Business and Grocer Investment Act” aiming to provide “dedicated source of financing for healthy food retailers operating in underserved communities in Mississippi, in both urban and rural areas, to increase access to affordable healthy food so as to improve diets and health; to promote the sale and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, in natural and/or frozen form, particularly those that are Mississippi grown and to support expanded economic opportunities in low-income and rural communities.”
- New Jersey has a similar bill encouraging more fresh produce consumption. A summary of the legislation titled The Healthy Small Food Retailer Acts seeks to provide support to small food retailers operating in the Garden State, in both urban and rural areas, to sell more fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods at affordable prices to neighborhood residents in an effort to improve the health and wellness of all New Jerseyans.
Finally, CNN Business had an opinion piece by Darya Minovi called “Dollar General isn’t doing enough to bring healthy food to low-income Americans.”
Minovi, a policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest focusing on healthy retail policies, sums up her piece in this way:
“To make a meaningful difference for consumers, Dollar General will need to prioritize fresh produce and more nutritious options. If not, communities will continue to follow the example of places like Tulsa, OK; New Orleans; and Mesquite, TX, which have instituted policies to limit the rapid expansion of dollar stores, given their anticompetitive impacts. The success of America’s fastest-growing food retailer should not come at the expense of Americans’ health.”