Philadelphia fighting food deserts through fresh fruits and vegetables at corner stores

Philadelphia is launching a new initiative to fight food deserts through existing corner stores:

The $900,000 investment in better health depends on apples and oranges, chips and candy, $1,200 fridges and green plastic baskets. The results could steer the course of American food policy.

Philadelphia is trying to turn corner stores into greengrocers. For a small shop, it’s a risky business proposition. Vegetables have a limited shelf life, so a store owner must know how much will sell quickly — or watch profits rot away. He also lacks the buying power of large supermarkets and is often unable to meet the minimum orders required by the cheaper wholesalers that grocery stores use.

With shelf space at a premium, shop owners must pick and choose the products they think will sell best. Chips and candy and soda are a sure bet. Eggplant? It’s hard to know…

The city has recruited 632 corner stores — of 2,500 overall — to its Get Healthy Philly initiative. Of those, 122 have gotten more intensive support, been supplied with new fridges to store produce and connected with wholesalers from whom they can buy at lower prices. It is also working with schools to improve nutrition and helping neighborhoods launch farmers markets, a multifaceted approach officials hope will improve public health.

As the article suggests, there is a lot riding on this project. It will be interesting to see if this could (1) substantively help improve health and (2) be profitable.

The advantage here seems to be that the stores are already established in neighborhoods and probably already have an established clientele. This program then puts healthier food in front of people who may already be visiting these stores. Working with existing infrastructure sounds like it would be more effective as well as cheaper in the long run.

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