Bill Would Plant Supermarkets in Food Deserts

Discussion
Apr 15, 2010

By George Anderson

New legislation proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Nuydia Velazquez,
both of New York, would invest $1 billion in federal loans and grants to help
build 2,100 grocery stores in under-served areas throughout the U.S. The proposed
Healthy Food Financing Initiative legislation builds on a similar $345 million
proposal the Obama Administration has put in its 2011 budget.

In a press conference to introduce the legislation, speakers brought up the
link between obesity and related diseases with the lack of access to stores
selling nutritious foods. So-called food deserts tend to be populated by fast
food restaurants and convenience stores that sell a higher proportion of packaged
snacks and sugary drinks.

"We have a health crisis in this country, in terms of obesity, diabetes,
heart disease and high blood pressure, that is disproportionately impacting low-income
people and communities of color," said Angela Glover Blackwell, founder & CEO
of national research and action institute PolicyLink. "Nationally, only
eight percent of African Americans currently live in a census tract with a
supermarket, and far too many Blacks and Latinos reside in areas underserved
by a grocery store. To ensure that people are eating healthy diets, we must
push to make healthier choices available in their neighborhoods. With the announcement
of this new legislation, we are taking a pro-active step towards expanding
fresh food access and creating jobs in communities that have struggled without
both for far too long."

Sen. Gillibrand said the bill, if enacted into law, would deliver a number
of concrete benefits. Speaking of her home state, she said, "Millions
of New Yorkers do not have access to fresh, healthy food. By building new grocery
stores in underserved areas across the state we can give people the opportunity
to live longer, healthier lives, save billions in health care costs, and create
tens of thousands of good-paying jobs."

Discussion Questions: Do you
think enactment would help improve the health of consumers in food deserts
while creating jobs and business opportunities for grocery store operators?
Should the grocery industry and food manufacturers be lobbying for enactment
of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative?

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15 Comments on "Bill Would Plant Supermarkets in Food Deserts"


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J. Peter Deeb
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

I am sure this is a well intended bill, however, let’s talk reality. Many low income areas have been underserved by retailers for many years. The reasons almost always revolve around profitability. Crime is an issue with shrink at huge levels, the percentage of perimeter items sold compared to the average supermarket is low because fresh is typically more costly than processed and perimeter is more profitable. Years of poor eating habits are not easily changed particularly when cost is an issue. Reliable labor can be an issue in areas where crime is high. Making loans available does not solve these underlying issues.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 1 month ago
Having lived in center city areas for a good deal of my life my first reaction is to ask, “What took them so long?” Like I said, that’s the first reaction. There are several issues here. First, in Detroit at least–and I suspect other urban areas with troubled inner city conditions–it is hard to find stores that offer fresh, healthy food at any price let alone affordable prices. True, there is a great farmer’s market in downtown Detroit but you have to have a car to get there unless you like the idea of wrestling a week’s worth of groceries on ever less and less reliable buses. Second, there’s no question that residents of areas that fall in the “food desert” category often suffer from poor nutrition and related health issues such as obesity and diabetes. The real question is, should the government go into the retail business? One could say that after financial services and the automotive industry officials in Washington may–like Alexander the Great–weep because they have no more worlds to conquer. But,… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

In theory I love this plan. Being a native Detroiter, our city struggles with the relocation of folks back into downtown and great city areas: there are just no grocery stores! So I hope it works and I hope Detroit can participate in opening some truly wonderful grocery stores.

My reality check is about shopper and worker safety. Once a store is funded and open, what can we do to keep it safe? I’d love to see the financing bill include a strong incentive to support new stores’ needs for the level of security required to keep the business thriving.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 1 month ago
From a purely economic standpoint, it makes perfect sense. If it’s not profitable to serve an area, then businesses aren’t going to be there. But then the people there don’t have access to healthy foods, and it becomes a cost to society to take on the burden of their health care. So government has to step in to cover a gap in the market. I like that the approach is to subsidize business, rather than government store co-ops or something, but I have to say, after 4 episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution as an example, is the issue with healthy eating an issue of availability or of education? In other words, why have businesses found it unprofitable to serve these locations? Is it purely economical? Or is it because their customer base is not choosing healthier foods to begin with? If the ‘unhealthiest town in America’ (the town featured in Jamie Oliver’s show) is any example, the reason why people tend not to choose healthier foods is because they don’t realize the cumulative impact… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

This just sounds like political grandstanding. Retailers avoid these areas for good reason. I doubt anything will come of it. This will only annoy large chains as they must deal with the constant badgering from local activists. If the people in these areas wanted a supermarket they would have shopped at the ones they had. But they didn’t and the stores closed. Most likely the latest bills will make it even harder to open a store because once you get the government involved, the layers of bureaucracy get thicker. My prediction is nothing meaningful happens.

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 1 month ago
There are so many obstacles to the successful implementation of this bill that I can hardly be an advocate. At the same time it would be fantastic to see the goals met. This is a case where creative planning is required to insure distribution, fair pricing and a full range of product availability. I’ve read research studies that illustrate how oftentimes parents of obese children do not recognize that their children are obese. Their kids look like everyone else. So why would we expect these same parents to opt for the healthy food alternative? Raising awareness and demonstrating the advantages of an alternative menu would probably be more beneficial in the long run than investing in retail stores that will probably have to disband because of all the reasons stated in the other comments above. So how does that awareness begin? Someone suggested more education in the school cafeteria. That’s not a bad place to begin. And perhaps there is an opportunity to add dinners for the family in the same cafeteria, again demonstrating what… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 1 month ago

There are numerous reasons why Food Deserts exist and the government works on both sides of the street in creating and maintaining that issue. The Federal government has no retail expertise and it has few sustainable success stories to support its involvement. This is just another idea that makes the public skeptical about Washington’s grasp.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Like Ryan, my first thought was, why not?

To those who say nay, I would ask–is the fact that people have been deprived and underserved for a long time and past attempts have been failures, sufficient reason to give up and never try again? Should earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters, be considered good reason not to rebuild? Is it an oxymoron to believe that shareholders, employees and consumers cannot all benefit simultaneously? Should future chances of personal responsibility be disregarded because of past performance? Is it not possible for today’s reality to be improved upon? Must there always be a single answer to a problem rather than multiple, cooperative, responses?

Having thought it through and read all the negative comments so far, though, I am weary and much more inclined to think, why bother?

Justin Time
Guest
11 years 1 month ago
Supermarket operators like Kroger thought that their answer to SuperCenters was to build huge food market palaces like Giant Eagle Market District and Wegmans. These mega shrines to all things food take lots of space, space that is a premium in urban and first ring suburban areas. My hometown outside of Pittsburgh used to have four major supermarkets. Of course three closed and a small operator, Foodland remained. That was ok, but in 2004, my elderly mom and 6000 other people were about to lose that store as well. So they stormed the borough council meetings, and just wouldn’t give up. Through federal funding, the store was saved. Fast forward five years, now the State of Pennsylvania has funded a brand new state-of-the-art green-certified Aldi Food Market in the community. It recently celebrated its first year of operation with much success and fanfare. Taking the surrounding area, this Aldi serves a five mile, 20,000 fresh-food-starved customer base. Both stores and an additional two supermarkets within the five mile base, up and over the next set… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

I have noticed that many lower tier supermarkets that do serve the lower income markets have a tendency not to carry healthy choices. For example, one of the largest supermarkets that caters to mid and lower tier families doesn’t bother to carry the “crisp and healthy breaded fish sticks.” But they sure do carry all the fattening, fried, and unhealthy stuff. And that’s just one of many examples.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 1 month ago

You have to honestly look at where these ‘food deserts’ are. Low income, high crime, no parking, low land values etc. That’s the exact opposite of what real estate scouts are looking for when researching communities. And I totally agree with the fast food explanation. Easy to set up, nothing to shoplift and provides cheap food for the demographics for the area. It is sad but true.

Living in San Diego, there was a time where you couldn’t find anything in National City or Chula Vista. Things are different now but brand name retailers stayed out of those areas for those very reasons, high crime and low income. I think retailers won’t be so quick to scoop up those grants and as for lobbying, every retailer is different and should be allowed to open where their market exists.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
11 years 1 month ago
Low income areas have been underserved by supermarkets for many reasons. However, in the absence of supermarkets many independent business people have opened small stores to try and fill this gap. As there shelf space is restricted they are forced to stock product that their clientele will buy. If this inventory is short on nutritionally loaded foods, then it is the fault of the people shopping in the store. These two well-meaning politicians are proposing to throw public money–which we don’t have–at building supermarkets in blighted areas. The supermarkets won’t survive long term, but will serve the purpose of putting the independents out of business. After a short period the grocers will leave and then the community will be left worse off than it was to begin with. Why won’t the [politicians] ever do anything to reward the entrepreneurs who have already put their money and sweat into serving a community? Use funding to provide an incentive for the current merchants to stock and price items that are missing from the community. Let’s support the… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 1 month ago

I can’t speak for other cities but as far as “maintaining” the food deserts within the Chicago city limits, the unions are front and center. Walmart, which has struggled for years to get building permits and obtain zoning in the inner city have been thwarted by powerful forces despite the pleas of churches and community members who clearly see Walmart’s presence in those communities as a potential provider of convenient and better food choices (and jobs).

I can only assume that the unions will happily be in line to build and provide manpower to the “grant” facilities, however, if the Gillibrand plan goes through.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Having operated stores in these areas (albeit c-stores and not supermarkets) I can readily attest to the difficult operating conditions they present. Like most retailers, we sold what the customers asked for and not what we thought they should buy. This may have not been the healthiest of foods.

I am not sure that offering products people cannot afford (and may not want) will result is changes in consumption habits. Like the concept but seriously doubt the practicality.

Kai Clarke
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

This is a good idea that is clearly needed. Government assistance in managing some type of food market in inner cities is critical to managing a better choice of foods for low-income people who cannot get to a retailer because of location. There are no fresh food markets in many inner cities, and this level of placement assisted by government is the first step in better managing these “food deserts.”

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