Truck Turns Food Desert Into Oasis

Discussion
Jun 13, 2011

If you can’t build it, drive it. That appears to be the philosophy of MoGro, a new mobile, food truck-like grocery in the Southwest designed to overcome barriers to affordability and access to healthy foods in underserved rural areas.

Short for "Mobile Grocery," MoGro is the vision of Rick and Beth Schnieders, who in 2010 decided to create "a sustainable solution that would increase access to fresh food, provide nutritional education, and empower local communities while creating a positive return for the company," according to MoGro’s website. Mr. Schnieders is the retired chairman and CEO of Sysco Corp. while Ms. Schnieders has been a food and nutrition advocate for the past 35 years.

With an initial focus on rural American Indian communities in the Southwest, a soft launch of the first MoGro on April 18 in the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico doubled expected projections. MoGro plans to reach up to six pueblos by December 2012.

Twice per week, the MoGro truck delivers more than 200 fresh, refrigerated and frozen items, including fruits, vegetables, baking supplies, dairy products, meats and beans. Through a partnership with The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, it also hosts nutrition workshops as well as fitness classes.

Mr. Schneiders said the truck is basically a converted beer truck with additional refrigeration, according to the GOOD webzine.

"The real reason we’re doing this is because we love this part of the country," Mr. Schneiders said. "We love the people. It’s an absolute crying need. My wife and I have a biding interest in food, agriculture, and nutrition. And we wanted to see if we could make this work."

Meanwhile, at least a few other mobile grocers are reaching underserved urban cities, although they appear to be of a not-for-profit variety and lack refrigeration.

In Chicago, a bus donated by the Chicago Transit Authority and stocked with vegetables makes twice-weekly stops in the city’s neighborhoods lacking grocers. Mobile Produce Market is the brainchild of Chicago-based non-profit called Food Desert Action.

In Southwest Atlanta, Fulton County Cooperative, part of the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension, recently launched a twice-a-week mobile unit serving fruits and vegetables. The units also hold healthy food cooking demonstration, nutrition information, healthy cooking recipes and health screenings.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of a mobile wheels solution to address the issue of food deserts in the U.S.? Should traditional grocers get involved in similar efforts? Can the concept work as a for-profit business?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

9 Comments on "Truck Turns Food Desert Into Oasis"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
David Livingston
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

This is well meaning but I’m not so sure about the potential for financial success. Most Indian reservations have a supermarket. The problem is, they don’t seem to be doing much in sales and therefore suffer the issues of a low volume store. Motivated shoppers will drive 60 miles to Walmart.

Urban areas really don’t have food deserts. Except maybe New Orleans where politics keeps grocers out rather than invite them in. They just don’t have a chain grocery store. Politicians don’t like to acknowledge independent grocers as supermarkets. I’m working on a project in Detroit where I was told there are no supermarkets. I know better; there just are no chain supermarkets. However, the Nash Finch, Supervalu, and Spartan independents would disagree with the politicians as there are dozens of $100k plus per week small supermarkets in the area.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

My first thought is that it probably isn’t scalable.

It all comes down to finding the balance in population density. Too few (or scattered) people and the cost numbers start skewing the wrong way. Too many people and you start running out of product.

I think of the old produce trucks that used to cruise the city when I was a kid. They always erred on the side of going deep with selection rather than wide, but invariably if you lived at the end of the route they represented a badly diminished value to you on the best days.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

I think it’s a great idea, and I hope they’ve got some kind of redundancy built into the refrigeration units.

Now, do I think it’s a money-maker? Maybe not. But I think it’s an awesome service to the communities.

Ben Ball
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Ryan remembers the vegetable trucks in the city.

I remember the JFG Coffee man in his black station wagon visiting the farm once a month. He sold other things besides coffee occasionally–but the JFG logo was on the car.

We must salute the Schneider’s for putting their efforts where their heart is. But $4 gasoline is not going to make this a viable business model on a for-profit basis. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful idea though.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
7 years 7 months ago
I probably stand alone in my position that this is a good idea and can make money. I don’t believe that every business in this country that provides a service has to be regional or national to be profitable. I’m looking at business through a new lens these days. It seems that we as a country are in the midst of fundamental shifts in paradigms. Demand for, and supply of, local products are increasing. Economic vitality is depressed, wealth has been significantly diminished and consumer confidence in our economy has been shaken. I don’t believe that the formulas of the past are, by default, the models by which we can judge new ventures such as MoGro. Perhaps MoGro, as a typical large scale operation, isn’t scalable. However as a local business serving a local need there may be room for hundreds of such operations around the country. There are fixed costs to owning a brick and mortar store just as there are to a mobile store. Its value as a small business and the living… Read more »
Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
7 years 7 months ago

There is a reason some neighborhoods lack fresh food grocers: people don’t buy them! Putting fresh foods on a truck is not going to change that. Unfortunately, healthy eating is not just about access, it’s also about education and lifestyle. “Junk food” companies have done a great job selling to low income Americans, health food companies and governments haven’t. The tipping point starts in schools and awareness campaigns. If the demand exists, you won’t need to drive the goods around a truck to sell them.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

I’m going to out cynic our usual resident cynics today: as soon as I see the word “sustainable” my interest drops about 65%; follow that up with “empower” and it barely registers a pulse. I wish them well, but this seems like an ultra high-cost model that isn’t even viable as charity, let alone as a profitable business.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
7 years 7 months ago
What an intriguing idea. While the example is on an Indian reservation, this had light bulbs going off in my head. I had been shocked to find that in the urban/suburban area in which I live that there is a food desert. I have so many grocery store choices that I could not believe the data. However, when I did some research I found that there is indeed an area, very close to where I live, in which there are no grocery stores. I have a car and drive so I have access to lots of choices. However, if I had to rely upon public transportation and lived in the food desert area I would, indeed, not have access to grocery stores without traveling a long distance. However, since the distance is not that far, a mobile unit would not have far to travel and could bring a store to the people without a lot of difficulty. This might be an opportunity for addressing the lack of grocery stores in urban areas.
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

This concept is working in emerging markets around the globe. Multinational companies are entering these regions, including India, China and others to distribute products previously unavailable to the consumers there. It is long overdue that we do the same efforts here in the US.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

What do you think of the prospects of a for-profit service such as MoGro addressing food desert communities?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...