Bodegas to Market Better Health

Discussion
Jan 31, 2006
George Anderson

Commentary by Rupa Ranganathan, Ethnic Strategist, Strategic Research Institute (www.srinstitute.com)


Kudos to New York commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Friednen for lining up bodega owners in the city to join in the health crusade against obesity and the effort to reduce or prevent type 2 or adult onset diabetes.


A report in The New York Times says that while consumers walking into city stores have little trouble finding sweet and salty snack foods, the same cannot be said for healthier fare.


An audit of dairy cases in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, for example, found that only one in three bodegas sold low-fat milk. With 80 percent of grocery stores in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick being bodegas, consumers had very few options for low-fat milk.


As of Jan. 20, New York had signed up two-dozen bodega owners to participate in its program that includes discounts on low-fat milk and fliers provided by the city’s health department.


While this represents a small step in the colossal fight against obesity, it is one that appreciates the influence of multicultural retail outlets like these neighborhood bodegas and the need to promote healthful items along with standard offerings in these stores, such as cigarettes and sodas.


“Bodegas are essential food providers in our communities, but healthy options are often unavailable,” said Dr. Frieden. “Cutting down on unnecessary calories and saturated fat can prevent diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems. Most people want to be healthier, and even small lifestyle changes – like switching to 1 percent milk, eating more fruits and vegetables and increasing physical activity – can make a big difference over the long term.”


Moderator’s Comment: Are the poor dietary habits of consumers in areas such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick largely due to the lack of healthful products
available in stores in those areas? What other factors are at work and do grocers (bodegas or otherwise) have a real opportunity to use healthful foods to grow their business?


George Anderson – Moderator

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6 Comments on "Bodegas to Market Better Health"


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Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 26 days ago

Bodegas are the ultimate limited assortment stores. They’re going to go after the lowest common denominator — there’s just not room for selection. I appreciate the desire to help, but I see limited success. After all, in some of these stores, there’s barely room enough to turn around. And because of their innate multiple inefficiencies, bodegas have to charge high prices to stay in business. None of that’s going to change. This is a band-aid, which is better than nothing, but we’ve got major bleeding. Long-term, a better answer is for the city to offer even more incentives for supermarkets to locate in inner cities. Some chains have done this, with decent success from what I hear. There need to be more.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 26 days ago
Apologies, once again, for taking exception to the choice of answers for the poll. There should be an “all of the above and more” option which would be much nearer to correct. I can hardly believe that anyone, any longer, believes that there is a single cause for the obesity effect. Getting back to the question, though, similar research has shown similar findings in the UK. It is generally harder for people living in inner cities and areas where the population generally have low incomes, to get affordable fresh fruit and vegetables. Retailers seem to think that by bleating on about selling cheap food they are satisfying consumer needs. Cheap in this case equating to processed and packaged in a variety of ways. They are also killing off small independent grocers faster than you can say small independent grocers, leaving few inexpensive options for people with extremely tight budgets. If more of the remaining independents took the initiative, sold more fresh products and even offered some advice on how to use them (a dozen or… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 26 days ago

If there was a demand for healthy products, the bodegas would be selling them. We all read the stories about the evacuees from New Orleans that refused gourmet sub sandwiches and demanded McDonald’s hamburgers and pizza. Food is so cheap in this country, and only a small part of any household’s budget. If you can’t afford food, the government will provide you with enough food stamps that even the poorest people can eat like kings. So it really just comes down to personal tastes and making a personal decision on what foods to choose.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 26 days ago

Yes, bodegas are cramped and unlikely to offer a lot of variety, but that doesn’t mean healthier products can’t supplant others on their shelves. I guess the question is, which is more important to consumers in those neighborhoods, eating the foods they are used to, or shopping at the bodega? If shoppers take the low fat milk because it’s not worth traveling to other stores for that one item in a higher-fat version, they may find that low fat is just fine. Same with other fat-offenders. The best marketers don’t just give consumers what they think they want, they create demand.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 26 days ago

Unhealthy diets stem from many problems. In New York City, zoning laws make it close to impossible to open large supermarkets. Bodega suppliers don’t give them computer printouts showing which items sell well elsewhere that they don’t buy. Suppliers often discourage new item testing, since many don’t take back unsold inventory. W.I.C. assortment requirements don’t force bodega owners to carry a larger variety of healthier choices. Many ghetto shoppers would make wiser choices if the items were put on sale more often. Whether they’re shopping with cash or food stamps or W.I.C. checks, people want the most for their money. There are cultural and educational issues, too, but obesity stems from so many causes. There’s nothing wrong with a multipronged approach.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 26 days ago

In my home town, Topeka, KS, we discovered a remarkably similar phenomenon: Overweight shoppers purchased more less-healthy foods than shoppers who were not-so-overweight. The study’s observers made their judgments by squinting their eyes really hard while watching customers at the checkout stands – a scientifically-proven methodology. Unfortunately, their findings never made the New York Times, and we’re still curious about that. (The Penny-Saver covered it, though.)

Regardless, when the citizens of Topeka learned of the serious shopping challenges of overweight people in Bed-Stuy, they responded with vigor. “What’s a bedsty?,” they demanded, “and is it contagious?” Midwestern wisdom at its best. There’s no fooling folks in sneeze-over country. Additionally, the foreign language skills of the populace were expanded significantly by the frequent use of words like Bushwick and bodega. There’s something to be said for continuing education.

So, plans were made: “When bodegas threaten our borders,” said Topeka’s mayor, “we’ll be ready.” I feel safer already.

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