What We Do: With Supermarkets
Encouraging supermarket development in underserved communities
Nearly 30 million Americans live in communities underserved by supermarkets or other healthy food retail, a recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture found. This problem impacts residents of urban and rural areas alike, especially those living in lower-income and minority communities. Research has also shown that people without convenient access to a supermarket suffer from disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related disease. Leading health experts, including the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have recommended increasing the number of supermarkets in underserved areas to reduce the rate of childhood obesity in the United States.
The Food Trust Solution
In 2001, The Food Trust published Food For Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Philadelphia, a report which mapped food access in Philadelphia. The report, which found that the city’s lower-income communities also had lowest supermarket access and the highest rates of diet-related deaths, spurred Philadelphia City Council hearings. At the request of City Council, The Food Trust convened the Food Marketing Task Force, a group of high-level representatives from the public health, economic development and grocery retailing sectors, to identify the challenges to operating supermarkets in underserved areas and propose policy recommendations to address these challenges.
From that task force – and the support of Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans – came the Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), an innovative grants and loan program to encourage fresh food retail development in underserved areas. Pennsylvania's FFFI was seeded with $30 million in state funds over three years, and this seed money was leveraged by The Reinvestment Fund, a Community Financial Development Institution. The Reinvestment Fund and The Food Trust co-managed the initiative.
Pennsylvania's FFFI approved 88 projects for funding, representing 1.67 million square feet of retail space and 5,000 jobs created or retained, making healthy food more available to an estimated 400,000 of the state’s underserved residents.
Named one of the top government innovations in the country by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, the success of FFFI made The Food Trust's advocacy process and the initiative's public-private structure a model for other cities and states committed to improving food access, including New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, California, Colorado and Illinois.
At a national level, First Lady Michelle Obama recognized Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative model, making it a key pillar of her Let’s Move! campaign to prevent childhood obesity. And, following advocacy by The Food Trust and our partners PolicyLink and The Reinvestment Fund, The Obama administration created the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Agriculture and Health to provide financing for developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores and farmers’ markets selling healthy food in underserved areas.
Targeted advocacy efforts are leading to state and local policy changes that encourage the development of supermarkets and other healthy food retail in lower-income, underserved communities. The Food Trust has a phased approach to developing and advancing state and local policies that address the challenges associated with grocery retail development.
A new joint report by The Food Trust and PolicyLink provides an up-to-date review of the research. Three years since our 2010 report, The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, the large volume of new research demonstrates that improving healthy food access in low-income communities and communities of color continues to be an urgent need.
This handbook is a resource for advocates at public health and community and economic development organizations working to increase the availability of nutritious foods and revitalize their neighborhoods. It provides a roadmap for advocacy and implementation of a healthy food financing initiative to encourage food retail in underserved regions.
This website highlights and supports communities across the country seeking to launch healthy food retail projects and provides resources to serve the community members and policymakers working to improve access to healthy food retail.
This literature review is a bibliography of studies of healthy food access and its impacts – 132 studies conducted in the United States in the past 20 years, including three nationwide analyses and geographically focused reports covering 22 states. For more recent research see the Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters report.